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Reoccurring night-mares

Posted Thursday, 14 February 2013  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

This week, the horse shaped cloud looming over our food industry is growing bigger and blacker. Today it was confirmed that bute, the carcinogenic tranquilizer give to horses, has very probably made it into the human food chain. For now, we just have to hope that nothing horrific happens as a result but, realistically, we’re unlikely to ever know if it causes any deaths.

It is the processed food industry’s worst nightmare. Yet, every cloud has a silver lining and in this instance it is the fact that consumers who would never normally have thought too carefully about what they eat, will start giving it some consideration. Maybe they’ll just read the label to check where the meat is from, maybe they’ll switch from a processed meal to cooking from scratch. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll be the start of something bigger.

Butchers shops up and down the country have been reporting increases in sales as shoppers realise that, if you want to know where your food comes from and what’s in it, you can’t have a supply chain that’s longer than two or three people. We certainly don’t want to gloat at anyone losing their livelihood from the scandal; there’s little doubt that some people will go out of business and some will probably go to jail for their deliberate or criminally negligent actions. That, of course, is sad to see. But this continent-spanning disgrace is unquestionably also an opportunity for small, ethical producers to shout loud and proud about who they are and what they do.

In the same way that a groundswell of opinion is making large corporations re-think their attitude to paying tax and handing out bonuses, we can make big producers reconsider how they treat meat. From the rearing of animals, to the conditions they are kept in and the way they are processed, we can all have an influence and with the entire country now aware of the problem with the current system, it's the time to make a real difference. 

The stupid thing is that the largest retailers have it in their heads that all the public wants is meat, at the very lowest price. Whilst, of course, for some people the cost of food is a real concern, no one in their right mind would say that safety should go out the window. Everyone would presumably be happy to pay a few more pence if that's what it takes to know where their food comes from and that it's safe to eat. It's quite likely that they could actually be making more money if they just stopped and listened to what people are saying. As a nation, we're realising the importance of good food and the horse meat message is spreading faster and wider than any advertising campaign ever could.

So let’s all use our consumer power to hammer it home over the coming weeks. Give your hard-earned money to your local butcher. Cook your meals from scratch. Buy free range instead of battery. And make the point that we dont want cheap protein at any costs; what the public really wants to eat is safe and ethically-produced food.

Mince

Ready meals - under starters orders...and they're off!

Posted Friday, 8 February 2013  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

It’s the food story of the year so far and you can hardly have failed to see the news that horsemeat has been found in a range of minced meat products. The public outcry is understandable, not so much because people object to eating horse meat but because, of course, we want to have the choice. With meat products, perhaps above all others, we want to know we’re being told the truth. It was scandalous enough then that small traces of horse meat were found in some foods but this increased to 30% in one tested Tesco "beef" burger and to an unbelievable 100% in Findus’s microwave lasagne.

So, no surprise to see it making headlines. What is perhaps more surprising to some is the wide range of products and retailers that have been affected. Tesco, Asda, Iceland, Aldi and even Waitrose have all withdrawn stocks and Findus is unlikely to be the last brand involved. Overall something in the region of 10 million burgers have been taken off the shelves.

So, what’s going on? Are all the meat suppliers in Europe colluding and deliberately feeding the citizens of the UK minced ex-Dobbin? It’s unlikely. In order to appreciate why so many shops and products have been affected you need to understand the nature of the UK food market and how narrow the supply chains are, particularly when it comes to processed meals and meats. Much as we like to think of our favourite brands as friendly independent companies, all out there fighting for their space in the market, the fact is that the vast majority are owned by a small number of food giants. The food produced by and for those giants comes from a small number of suppliers who in turn buy raw ingredients, such as mince, from a small number of producers.

Take Greencore as an example. To be clear from the off (to use an inappropriate horse racing analogy), there is no suggestion that there is any problem with any of their products - it’s just that, helpfully, they are quite open about some of the brands they produce. Amongst them you’ll find Weight Watchers, Bisto, and Foo.go. All of these are brands that Greencore themselves actually own. There are many, many more for whom they produce food under licence. It’s the same story countrywide – a small handful of producers are churning out the vast majority of our processed food brands.

Now, some would say that, horsemeat scandals aside, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Large companies can use their scale and efficiency to drive down prices for the end consumer. But we have to appreciate the risks that come with a narrow supply chain. In this particular instance we’ve seen how far and wide contamination can spread from a single source. In addition, producing food on that scale becomes all about price with quality being consistently squeezed at the expense of margin. It's quite likely that the latest scandal is the result of that persistent drive to reduce costs.

Surely the pack will tell you if your food has been made by a food giant? Well, no, not necessarily. The UK consumer rules say only that the product needs to be labelled with the producer or the seller. So that's why you'll see expressions like “made in the UK for Tesco” on the packet. They dont have to tell you who made it for them. The only way of actually finding out who made your meal is to research EC producer’s mark - a small code stamped on the pack.

We’re being a big glib here; many supermarkets are increasingly selling high quality processed products from small, local producers, but the point to take home is that you can’t assume that, just because you’re buying a particular brand of ready meal, it won’t have been made in exactly the same factory as the one on the next shelf along. The chances are that it has.

So, returning to our horse meat, it’s likely that just one or two rogue producers have been doing bad things to make an extra few quid. It remains to be seen if they were intentionally criminal acts or just carelessness (though, quite frankly it’s difficult to see how you can accidentally make an entire lasagne out of Red Rum without having a hunch that something’s not right) but that small number of big meat producers will have sent the same meat or mince out to a small number of ready meal and burger producers who, in turn, will have sent their products on to a huge number of retailers.

Our advice? The best way forward is to shorten your personal supply chain by buying from local retailers or, better still, direct from the producer. Your butcher will know exactly what went into his mince because he made it himself. And your local farmer will often even be able to tell you the name of the animal! If you do shop in supermarkets (and most of us do) read the packet, know as much as you can about what you’re buying and who you’re buying it from.

And, of course, never buy a microwave lasagne. Why? They taste terrible.

It Takes Two (why it has to be local AND seasonal...)

Posted Friday, 18 January 2013  /  Written by The Twig  /  5 Comment(s)

There's absolutely no doubt that eating local, seasonal food significantly reduces the environmental impact of our food but it really needs to be both of those things. Here's why.

There is a heavy blanket of snow outside the Barn as I write this and it's pretty hard to imagine anything much growing in the UK today, yet a trip to the supermarket will reveal shelf upon shelf of British tomatoes and other home-grown out-of-season fruits and veg. The retailers are riding the home grown wave and know a Union Jack on the pack will sell. 'Great', local food fans will say. Those tasty-looking tomatoes might only have come from 10 miles down the road, so they must be pretty low on food miles, right? Well, yes, in terms of physical distance, but definitely not in terms of their overall carbon footprint.

Local doesn't necessarily mean low CO2. In fact, if you insist on eating tomatoes in January, from an environmental perspective you're positively better off buying them from abroad. A recent study showed that UK tomatoes grown out of season (in heated greenhouses) emitted 2.5kg of CO2 per kg, whereas tomatoes grown in Spain (where it is naturally much warmer), and brought across to the UK by road produced less than a tenth of that figure. The same study suggested that early apples harvested in the British Summer but then stored in refrigerated units until the Autumn were far worse, in terms of CO2 emissions, than fruit imported (even by air) from New Zealand.

It's worth remembering that transport is just one part of the food supply chain and that the energy used in growing, refrigerating and storing out-of-season produce can vastly outweigh the carbon cost of a flight or lengthy road journey. Properly seasonal food grows naturally at that time of year. It doesn't need heated greenhouses to grow and doesn't need to be stored in huge refrigerators. Only when we're all eating locally AND seasonally, will we really make a difference.

  Tomato

 

 

Fair foreign fruits?

Posted Monday, 7 January 2013  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

It’s January, and in the kitchen that means time to make marmalade. Odd, isn’t it that there’s nothing more British than marmalade and yet we’ll never be able to make it using home grown produce (or at least not until global warming really kicks in)? As it happens we’ve got a great recipe for marmalade on our recipes pages but that’s not what this blog is about. The fact that you simply can’t buy British oranges got us thinking; how should the seasonal foodie go about eating fruit and veg that just doesn’t grow in this country?

Let’s face it, we’re in a particularly tough season for UK crops but even in the warmest of months there are some things that farmers will never be able to produce here. The seasonal purist might argue that, if it doesn’t grow here we shouldn’t be eating it. After all, any fresh veg transported from abroad will inevitably have a fairly significant carbon footprint, at least compared to locally-grown alternatives. But should we really deny ourselves the soft, sweet banana, the tangy pineapple or the juicy mango altogether? Even if we’re not buying fresh goods, some absolute staples of British life have to be imported. Surely, boardrooms country-wide would cease to function properly without coffee. No doubt the sale of biscuits would plummet if they couldn’t be accompanied by that other great British (yet completely un-British) institution, tea. And when it comes to cooking, our spice racks would be virtually empty if we insisted on limiting ourselves to 100% home-grown produce.

No, at Well Seasoned we like to think of ourselves as seasonal pragmatists. Eating seasonally isn’t about denying ourselves the pleasures of life or a jingoistic insistence on all-British produce, it’s simply about taking some care and thinking about the provenance of our food. We just have to extend that attitude when buying food from abroad.

There are a few easy steps you can take when it comes to buying imported goods. First, of course, consider if there’s a sensible home-grown alternative to what you’re buying. Do you really want a mango when a sweet plum would satisfy your fruit craving?

If you’ve decided that nothing but that fresh Brazillian pineapple will do, consider how your produce came to the UK. As a general rule airfreight will be the worst form of travel for carbon footprint, followed by rail, road and sea (then cycling and walking). So, take a look at your packaging and see if you can tell how it travelled. These days, quite a lot of supermarket packaging will give you a hint, especially if your produce has come by air. Try to prioritise those modes of transport in reverse order.

Finally, see if you get any other assurances from the retailer about provenance. Fairtrade, as a mark, has its critics but it goes a long way towards guaranteeing that the social consequences of your purchase are minimised. The farmers will have been paid a decent price for their hard work and profits will go to the local economy. If you need convincing that a few extra pence for Fairtrade is worthwhile, consider how some big retailers treat farmers in this country then imagine them throwing their weight around with some of the poorest farmers in the world. 

It’s not always easy to juggle those ethical priorities but a little bit of thought will at least go some way to making a difference. Incidentally, Fairtrade Fortnight starts on 25 February and runs to 10 March this year – keep an eye out for some great recipes and promotions using Fairtrade produce.

Top of the Pops

Posted Friday, 21 December 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

Mary Portas's high street regeneration project has received mixed reviews but we've come across one place where it seems to be working wonders. High class London Bridge-based butchers The Butchery Ltd, have opened a new pop up shop in Forest Hill, South East London which has become an instant hit with locals.

The Butchery 3

Local residents and business owners Nathan Mills and Ruth Siwinska set up the temporary establishment on 1st December and will be there until Christmas Eve. Nathan and Ruth estimate that in their first weekend of trading 2,000 people came into the shop with nearly 400 of those being converted into paying customers!

The Butchery Ltd stocks a small but special range of free range meat from native bred and reared animals. They also make their own stuffings, stock, pigs in blankets, and goose fat.

The launch is part of The Shop Revolution, a project that aims to bring empty shop units back into use through the introduction of pop up shops. The Butchery shop has been such a success that they are investigating whether it can become a permanent fixture on the Forest Hill high street - exactly what the project is aimed at.

So, if you're in the area, make sure you pop in to the pop up and support this worthwhile meaty venture.

The Butchery 2

All year spears?

Posted Monday, 17 September 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

Our hearts sank a bit this morning when we read that M&S were plugging "reverse season" British asparagus. Grown in the Wye Valley, home of many of the UK's asparagus growers, the new strain will come into season in Autumn and be available right through to the Spring. It effectively means a year-round supply of British asparagus and, as the growers say, it is set to "revolutionise the asparagus industry".

On the plus side, being grown in the UK means low food miles and lower CO2 emissions. But how much energy will be used to grown the strain (presumably inside, in large greenhouses) during the deep mid-winter? Oh, and any thoughts on how it tastes? Extraordinarily, most of the press pieces we've read don't event mention the word!

Now, there are a lot of questions that we're happy to admit we don't have the answers to - maybe they're delicious, maybe they're using super-efficient heating systems. But isn't the short asparagus season (which traditionally runs from St George's Day to Midsummer's Eve, just 6 weeks later) one of the things we love about eating the delicacy? The anticipation, the opportunity to gorge and then the bitter-sweet knowledge that we won't see it again for several months.

We're in the most bountiful and abundant season of the whole year with all manner of squashes, nuts, and fruits practically throwing themselves off the trees begging "eat me!" and we're trying to grow more asparagus? It doesn't quite feel right to us. Too much of a good thing is...erm...a bad thing and while we love the nutty, fresh taste of British asparagus, we'll gladly wait until next April for our next mouthful.

Asparagus

Organic update

Posted Wednesday, 5 September 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

An interesting study was reported on the BBC today confirming that "organic food will not make you healthier". Naturally, the Soil Association has criticised the research and, in particular the lack of long term studies (which seems a fair point) but it is yet another pointer that 'organic' might not be all it's cracked up to be.

This long (and slightly ranty) piece that we wrote last year set out our thoughts on the subject and we stand by what we said back then. A number of other reports this year have confirmed the continuing downward slide of organic sales in the UK. Clearly the economy is having an impact - people are no longer able or willing to splash out the extra for organic - but, as we said, there's a longer term trend here; there is mounting evidence that organic is no better for us as individuals and that the global business that 'organic' has become is no better for the planet.

It all points in only one direction - away from 'supermarket organic' and towards local, seasonal eating.

(PS. just as a footnote, it's very important to note that we're not knocking the UK's small organic producers here. Many of them account for some of the UK's finest produce and stay true to the original organic ethos. But most of the organic produce sold in the UK is now through the supermarkets. That produce is bred for transportability rather than taste and it is flown half the way round the world undoing any good that was done by growing it organically in the first place. It has become a tick-box exercise that has lost all of the original meaning of organic.)  

Organic

Telling Porkies

Posted Thursday, 30 August 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

Back in February we reported on a shocking video that had been released showing the poor treatment of animals on a Red Tractor farm. The farm in question was clearly breaching all sorts of standards (including the Red Tractor ones) but we pointed out that, even in respect of compliant farms, the Red tractor Scheme is only a quality assurance mark - it gives very few guarantees about animal welfare other than compliance with the law.

But the scheme was in the firing line before then; last October, Compassion in World Farming submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about adverts promoting pork produced under the Red Tractor assurance scheme and the ASA has just ruled in CIWF's favour.

The newspaper ads and posters, headed “Pork Not Porkies” claimed that pork stamped with a Red Tractor logo is “high welfare pork”. CIWF provided information to the ASA showing that the scheme permits the use of – amongst other things – farrowing crates and fully slatted floors, which, it maintained were simply incompatible with ‘high welfare’ claim.

The ASA said “The claim ‘RED TRACTOR PORK IS HIGH WELFARE PORK’ ... implied that there were no concerns about the welfare of pigs in the UK, whereas some areas were unlikely to be regarded as ‘high’ welfare” and went on to conclude that the adverts are misleading and cannot be used in their current form.

It is important to remember that, whilst many Red Tractor producers are higher welfare farms, the Red Tractor mark is not, in itself, an assurance of high animal welfare. To ensure higher welfare standards consumers should look for the RSPCA freedom food mark or free range label.

Monty Pie-thon?

Posted Tuesday, 21 August 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

There is a line in an old Monty Python film when, describing the passing of time, the narrator says "Winter changed into Spring. Spring changed into Summer. Summer changed back into Winter. And Winter gave Spring and Summer a miss and went straight on into Autumn." Well, it feels a little like that at the moment as we feel a distinctly autumnal nip in the morning air and the forecast suggests that, after the most fleeting of visits, Summer may have picked up its ball and gone home. So, it's definitely been a disappointing year for tan fans but as seasonal foodies we can't get too upset. Autumn is the most bountiful of the seasons and its the onset of the slightly colder weather that prepares several of the nation's favourite fruits and vegetables for picking. Apples start to ripen and fall whilst the moister, cooler air gives mushrooms their cue to make an appearance. We're definitely not in frost territory yet but traditionally parsnips are harvested after he first frost when they become sweeter. The point of this slightly rambling piece is to say that, whilst it can be a little depressing that the warm bright weather may be on the way out, for the seasonal food fan there's always something to look forward to. Instead of mourning the end of the Summer let's celebrate the arrival of Autumn and all of its tasty bounty.

Python

Mack-attack

Posted Wednesday, 15 August 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

Sorry we haven't been on the blog much recently. If we're honest, it's because we've been busy becoming experts in sports we've never watched before (hands up anyone who hasn't shouted 'that was never an 8.5' or 'now that was a great dismount' at the TV in the last couple of weeks). We've also been hard at work on our Little Pots range which we're hoping to launch in the Autumn. More on that to come shortly. In the meantime, there's good and bad news for fish this month.

On the positive side, supermarkets have reported a surge in sustainable fish sales. Sainsbury's say they've seen a rise of 117% in sales of lesser-known fish in 2012 compared to 2011. Species such as sea bass, pollock and trout all showed significant double digit growth whilst tilapia, a farmed import, grew be a staggering 117%. M&S, Morrisons and Tesco also reported similar rises with pouting, gurnard and dab all featuring on customers' shopping list. So the message is definitely getting through and as consumers we really seem to be changing our shopping habits. 

On the down side, however, there are some worrying signs around that mackerel numbers are on the decrease. The hero fish of the sustainable movement appears to be suffering from overfishing and a quota war between the Faroe Islands and Iceland. Self-declared quotas are currently well above the scientifically approved sustainable level and the Marine Conservation Society has changed it's rating for mackerel from a "to eat" species to "under review". With no MSC-certified mackerel in the shops eco-conscious consumers may be floundering and our recommendation is to eat only locally caught mackerel from British waters.

This all goes to show that there isn't actually any such thing as a "sustainable fish" When we use the phrase it's shorthand for "fished sustainably at current levels of consumption" and any species will suffer if subjected to overfishing. The key is to spread the load and take the pressure off our favourites - a useful rule of thumb that we try to stick to is never to eat the same species twice in a row. If everyone did it, most species would become "sustainable fish". Give it a go!

Saucy but nice

Posted Thursday, 9 August 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

It's always nice to know when people think our opinions are worth listening to. Just as we were wondering what to eat the other night, a handful of vouchers fell through the letterbox at the Barn. They were from the Saucy Fish Co asking if we'd review their latest offering, salmon fillets with lime and jalapeno glaze.

The SFC have been on our radar for a while now as they appear to be making steady inroads into the pre-packaged fish market. Instead of coming from the wet slab or the loose packaging you usually find in supermarkets, SFC vacuum pack their products and they generally comprise two portions of fish plus a cooking or finishing sauce. Fishcakes and stand alone sauces also feature in their range.

On the face of it, salmon with lime and chilli is quite a bold combination. Salmon is often used in Asian recipes and so the lime was fine but we wondered whether the jalepeno might be a little strong for a fairly mildly flavoured fish. After a quick trip to Tesco (not a place we frequent but the only place we could redeem the vouchers!) we put some tasty new potatoes on to boil and followed the simple cooking instructions on the packet.

Vacuum packing is actually a pretty good alternative to the wet slab. We're not quite sure whether any additional jiggery pokery goes into it but it seems to keep the fish fresh and moist. Cooking was straightforward and produced a couple of succulent looking pink fillets with a sticky glaze. We were pretty pleased with the results. The fish was good quality, firm and pink and the glaze worked surprisingly well. Whilst there wasn't much heat from the jalepeno it was a good balance of sweet and tangy.

Having munched through our meal we probed into SFC's environmental policies and were fairly pleased with what we found. SFC salmon fillets are sourced from Global G.A.P certified farms in Norway and Scotland. The Scottish salmon also complies with the RSPCA Freedom Foods label. SFC were apparently the first brand to sign up to the Sustainable Seafood Coalition, a group which aims to improve product labelling and consumer protection. The groups has some heavyweight backers including Waitrose, the FishFight campaign and ClientEarth, the environmental law group.

So, the final verdict: Pre-packaged meals aren't really our thing and when it comes to fish we'd generally prefer to support our local fishmonger. But from time to time everyone wants both convenience and freshness and SFC have done a decent job of offering this through the supermarkets. They take provenance and sustainability seriously and we'd be happy to buy their products again, expecially when time was short. We thought they'd work best as a mid-week meal served up with some fresh and simple seasonal veg.

Saucy Fish Co

A rose by any other name...

Posted Wednesday, 8 August 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  1 Comment(s)

The ethical problems with "traditional" veal (calf meat) are well documented. Calves were kept alone in small crates and in the dark to keep their meat tender and pale. The meat retains some of that bad reputation despite the fact that veal crates have been banned in the UK since 1990 and in Europe since 2007 (inexcusably, the EU was again well behind the curve).

Whilst one problem has largely been solved (in the UK at least) by the banning of crates, another still exists. As a country we drink and consume a huge amount of milk in one form or another. To produce milk, cows have to be pregnant and, naturally, around half of the calves born are male. Only a tiny proportion of those are needed for breeding so farmers are faced with a stark choice: slaughter the bull calves at a very young age and simply discard them or rear them unprofitably with no apparent end use. The fully matured cows are not generally considered good beef (because the breed is a milk cow rather than a beef one) and so currently most (around 100,000 a year) are simply shot at 24 to 48 hours old. The remainder (around 10,000) are shipped abroad where they can be subjected to very low welfare standards. It's a shocking fact but one that all of us who drink or eat milk products bear some responsibility for.

Clearly, for anyone who enjoys dairy products it's a huge ethical problem. There are those who would argue that its root lies with our insatiable thirst for milk and perhaps they are right - most consumers are unaware of the price being paid to produce our milk, cheese and butter. However, if we assume that, for now, milk consumption is unlikely to decline, we must surely look to solve, or at least mitigate, the bull calf dilemma. One answer could be rose veal.

Rose veal production is comparatively new. As with traditional veal, the meat is from the bull calves of milk cows but, as the name suggests, due to a more natural lifestyle the meat is much pinker. Most rose veal calves are still kept inside (necessary to ensure the meat is tender enough) but in spacious straw bedded barns. In the UK, the calves are not just fed on milk (as some European veal still is) but a more natural protein-rich diet. They will, of course, still be slaughtered but at around 20 months and having lived comfortable lives (and ultimately ending up on the dinner table rather than in an incinerator). It has to be a better alternative to an early death or export to the continent.

Both Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA have actively backed rose veal as a more humane alternative to the unwarranted slaughter of thousands of bull calves and they recognise that some re-education of the public is needed to get over the old image. At Well Seasoned we're fans. The meat is tender and flavoursome. It is, of course, essentially beef and whilst it may not live up to the same standards as a rare breed grass fed steak, it is unquestionably high quality and flavoursome. Conscious of the public concerns around veal, those farmers who produce it know it has to meet the highest ethical standards.

Amazingly, rose veal accounts for just 0.1% of the meat consumed in the UK. Some smaller supermarkets (M&S for example) stock it but whilst both Sainsburys and Tesco have said in the past that they would stock it, they are currently not doing so. We can only assume they are not convinced there is a big enough market. There are, however, many high quality online retailers out there and rose veal can increasingly be found at farmers markets so why not do your bit to create the demand and help at least partially to solve this ethical dilemma?

Rose veal steaks

Going for gold(fish)

Posted Tuesday, 7 August 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

It is perhaps not surprising that a report on food published last week was somewhat overshadowed by the opening ceremony for the Olympics, but London 2012 has been praised for its sustainable food achievements.

London 2012 committed in it's original bid to be “the greenest Games yet”  and the first ever to adopt a sustainable fish policy. According to the report from the Sustainable Fish City campaign titled "Fish Legacy 2012", London 2012’s sustainable fish policy has been a great success. Caterers who together serve more than 100 million meals a year have been persuaded to commit to long-term sustainable fish policies.

Sustainable Fish City want London to become the first city in the world to buy, sell and eat only sustainable fish. It's lofty ambition but the influence of the Games is far reaching so now is the time to go for gold if we are to maximise Britain's global influence. The report charts the remarkable sustainable fish commitments inspired by the London 2012 Games, and how these have been achieved. They include commitments to serve only sustainable fish by:

  • Government, for Whitehall, Number 10, HM Prison Service and the Armed Forces.
  • The London Metropolitan Police, Fire Brigade, Transport for London and City Hall.
  • Several London boroughs, including Camden, Havering, Islington and Richmond.
  • 19 leading universities, serving well over 200,000 staff and students.
  • Large caterers, including the country’s second largest contract caterer Sodexo, as well as BaxterStorey, ISS Food and Hospitality and Restaurant Associates.
  • Many chefs and restaurants, including popular high-street chains such as Carluccio’s, well-loved independents and Michelin-starred establishments.
  • Tourist attractions such as the National Trust, the Zoological Society of London (which runs London Zoo), the SeaLife Aquarium and the restaurant at the Royal Albert Hall.
  • 3,500 schools participating in the national Food for Life Catering Mark programme.
  • Blue-chip businesses who commission or provide very large volumes of catering, including London 2012 sponsors Thames Water and Coca-Cola GB.

There is, of course, a long way to go to actually implement the pledges but if any significant proportion of the pledgers stick to their word it will be quite an achievement and certainly a worthy legacy for London 2012.

Half baked...or using their loaf?

Posted Thursday, 26 July 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  1 Comment(s)

1st August will be Lammas Day...loaf mass day. It's the ancient festival of the first day of the wheat harvest. In ye olden times farmers would bring bread or flour from the new crop to church. Tenant farmers would also be obliged to take a share of their flour to their landlord. So, it's an appropriate time for Tesco to announce that they are going to sell more "artisan" bread.

According to it's PR department, some 900 of Tesco's in-store bakeries are being revamped to sell a range of 30 speciality loaves. The Real Bread Campaign has, quite rightly, taken a cautious approach. They say that baking a true loaf is a very different thing to the process usually used by supermarkets. In most cases the in-store baking consists of little more than "sun tanning" loaves that come to the store already partly baked (and Tesco have admitted this will still be the case).

If you have a local independent bakery (and you probably do - find out here) then you should definitely be supporting it. The bread you buy there will be streets ahead of anything in Tesco (or most supermarkets for that matter). But, reintroducing the supermarket-shopping public to speciality loaves is, in our view, no bad thing, even if the cooking process isn't entirely authentic. Once supermarket shoppers have discovered that there's more to life than sliced white, it's a small step to convince them that it's worth making a special trip to the local bakery. And as real bread fans will know, once you've done that, there's no going back.

Bread small

 

 

Miserable myths

Posted Monday, 16 July 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

Yesterday, 15th July, was St Swithin's Day. Tradition has it that whatever the weather on St Swithin's Day, it will continue for the next 40 days. As the old poem goes:

St. Swithin's day if thou dost rain;
For forty days it will remain;
St. Swithin's day if thou be fair;
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.

If it were true, what's left of the Summer would be pretty decent - most of us would probably settle for yesterday's weather which was, for most of the country, blue skies and around 20 degrees with only very occasional scattered showers. Sadly if the forecast for today is to be believed, it's not to be and we're looking at a return to heavy rain later this afternoon.

And, unsurprisingly, the myth is a long way off being scientific fact. The wives tale has, according to a study, been debunked many times over. On at least 55 occasions when it has rained on St Swithin's day, 40 days of rain did not follow. Of course, that's not to say it's never happened and it feels like, if were ever we were going to have 40 days of rain in a row, it'll be this year!

 

Mussel-ing in

Posted Wednesday, 27 June 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

We came across a small but interesting editorial piece in the little-known Seafood Intelligence journal this week. Seafood Shetland and the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group Limited have announced that they have been awarded Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for the Shetland and Scottish Mainland rope grown mussel enhanced fishery. The piece rightly points out the fine line that exists between some aquaculture (fish farming) and fisheries (where wild fish are caught). The Shetland mussels are, to an extent, farmed rather than fished because the fishery is "enhanced" by the introduction of reared mussels from hatcheries or the capture and re-siting of wild spawn. Under its own rules, the MSC is not meant to certify fish farms but only natural fisheries. In this particular instance, the difference seems a question of semantics but the blurring of the boundaries by MSC could be important both from a marketing perspective and politically. Not all fish farms behave the way they should and so we as consumers need to be totally clear whether our seafood has been farmed or caught. Only if those responsible for producing (and indeed certifying) our food are 100% open and transparent about where it comes from and the conditions in which is was produced, can we make an informed choice about it.

If you'd like to read the whole piece, click HERE

Mussels small

Guile of Argyll

Posted Friday, 15 June 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

We were really disappointed to read this story today reporting on Martha, the nine year old school girl who has been banned from blogging about her school dinners. Her NeverSeconds blog in which she photographed and rated her school meals, recently went viral, attracting some 2 million hits a day. Yesterday's apparently final post, titled Goodbye, read "I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today." Argyll and Bute Council's actions are pretty sinister. Although they have yet to release a statement, the move stifles a valuable if light-hearted discussion of school dinners, nutrition and cooking standards in our schools. The ban seems even more ridiculous when you consider that the blog was not an unthinking attack on school dinners. The photos make some meals look pretty good and several recent meals were awarded 9/10 or better. Shame on Argyll and Bute for repressing a young food writing and photography talent. Mind you, the Twitterstorm is already growing - if past events are anything to go by, we'll predict a turnaround from the council some time in the next 48 hours....

Update: Argyll and Bute Council have released a statement which claims media coverage of the blog had "led catering staff to fear for their jobs." It adds "...this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm [the blog] was causing. 

Wonder how many times can you shoot yourself it the foot?

Update II: after front page coverage, a proper 'Twitter storm' and thousands of complaint emails, Argyll & Bute have backtracked on their decision. A classic case of a hastily taken decision coming back to bite when they could have made a really positive story out of the blog. Victory for social media and young food bloggers everywhere!

Well oil be...

Posted Thursday, 14 June 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  3 Comment(s)

Last Summer we made the case for British cold pressed rapeseed oil as a great alternative to olive oil. Well, apparently Japanese tourists are now flocking to the British countryside in early Summer to see the yellow patchwork blanket which covers much of our countryside! We wont take all the credit for that but it seems it's good news for growers as they report a doubling of production in the last decade.

Rapeseed oil is comparatively good for those of us who enjoy it too; with half the saturated fats of olive oil it's a much healthier option. It also has definite benefits for chefs - if you like your food crispy its "smoke point" is rather higher than olive oil. At Well Seasoned use cold pressed rapeseed oil for our pestos. It's not just that we want to support British businesses (nearly all of the artisanal brands on sale in the UK are British). We're first and foremost after the very best flavours and we genuinely feel that the buttery, rich taste of rapeseed really set our products head and shoulders above the competition.

That's why we were surprised to read a couple of negative articles recently such as this one from the Guardian's Oliver Thring (sorry Oli - love your work normally) . Critics of rapreseed oil have said we're all getting carried away and that it's a case of "the Emperor's new lube". They describe the flavour as "cabbagey" or "inherently bland". Rape is a brassica so its understandable how the cabbage rumour came into being but it's just not true. If you actually tasted the good quality stuff you'd be hard pressed to find any flavours other than a light buttery, nutty taste with occasional hints of asparagus. Granted, its taste is less distinctive and more neutral than olive oil but that is the key to its universality - it's a subtle taste which doesn't overwhelm other ingredients.

There may be something in the view that chefs are flag-waving because its a British product but no chef worth his salt would do that if he/she wasn't also convinced that it was at least on a par with olive oil counterparts. Are chefs like Jamie Oliver, Matt Follas, Ollie Dabous, and Tristan Welch all just following the herd? We very much doubt it (and certainly wouldnt want to be the ones to suggest it to Matt - he's a big lad you know).

Give a good quality rapeseed oil a go and make your own mind up. We're pretty sure you'll like what you taste a much as Japanese tourists like what they see.

Rapeseed field (small)

Still a bit fishy...

Posted Wednesday, 13 June 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

So, as we predicted yesterday, the meeting of EU fisheries ministers ended in something of a fudge. Here's the BBC article which confirms the meeting agreed a "general approach" to banning fish discards. They have agreed to ban discards for pelagic fish (mackerel and herring) by 2014 with a phased ban on white fish (cod, haddock etc) coming into force by 2018. Despite being two and six years away respectively, both dates are provisional and subject to agreement of parliament and the commission. So, it's progress of sorts but we are witnessing the frustratingly slow machinations of the EU where the speed of legislative action is measured in years rather than weeks. Perhaps most worrying though is the fact that the ministers did not agree "how strictly fishermen should be limited to a scientifically sustainable catch". It seems completely absurd that politicians are actively arguing that their countries should be able to fish at unsustainable levels. To be totally clear, this means standing up and saying, in effect, "we want the right to fish to the point of extinction". That's politics for you.

Something fishy going on

Posted Tuesday, 12 June 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  1 Comment(s)

As EU ministers meet again today to discuss fishing policies, Richard Benyon, UK fisheries minister, appeared on the Today programme confirming that the UK intends to push for an end to the policy which currently sees perfectly edible fish discarded overboard "as soon as possible".

The current system of quotas, means one in every 10 fish caught is thrown back, dead or dying and some statistics suggest that in the North Sea this figure is as high as 50%. More negotiations are all well and good - but as we've said on this blog before, the changes are not coming fast enough and there were some very worrying (and carefully worded) signs in what the minister had to say.

He said that he was happy that "a ban on discards of pelagic fish [those that live in the upper layers of the sea] could be in place by 2014". Good news. But the obvious and worrying omission is non-pelagic fish. (Incidentally, science and politics collide here - not all white fish are non-pelagic or vice-versa but they are caught in the same political net.) We can take the omission to mean that non-pelagic fish (including cod) will not be subject to a discard ban by that date. Matters are apparently "more complicated" when it comes to white fish.

Actually, it's not complicated at all and the science is the same for all fish - if you kill too many, the fish die out. What he means is that the politicians from the various EU member states are not yet willing to give up on their rights to plunder the seas for cod and its cousins. In short, white fish are to be sacrificed as part of the political process. Apparently, "Britain is at the forefront of calling for radical reform" but in our view it's simply not good enough when we're already, in advance of the negotiations, effectively admitting that we're going to be making concessions. Throw in a few more woolly phrases like "moving towards sustainable levels" rather than "achieving sustainability" and you pretty much have a guarantee that there will be a compromise based not on scientific evidence but on very unscientific political negotiation. It's all incredibly frustrating.

We'll keep a close eye on the negotiations and look forward to hearing the result of them but we can't help feeling they may not yield everything we'd hoped.

Whiting, December

Sera, suncream and sandals

Posted Friday, 25 May 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

It's that time of year; we've had more than 24 hours of reasonable weather so everyone's gone barmy. Shorts, sunglasses and pastey white legs can be seen across the land as the country goes mental for Summer.

Before we get too carried away though, it's worth remembering the old country saying that Summer doesn't truly start until the elder is in flower. A quick Twitter survey last week suggested that, whilst there are elder flowers in the very South East of England (coastal Kent) most of the country has yet to see it in full bloom. So, if ancient-but-scientifically-unproven proverbs are anything to go by, there might be a bit more rain to come before the good weather really settles in.

If you want to put even more of a dampener on things, tell your friends that, whilst June was known as Sera Monath (the Dry Month) in Anglo Saxon times, average statistics for London (where we're based), show only September, October and December get more rain. Is that going to stop us getting excited? No chance. Where did we put those flip flops?

Summer sun

Boat races, bottles and blow-outs

Posted Tuesday, 10 April 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  2 Comment(s)

Compared to our ancestors, as a nation we celebrate remarkably few feast days with the two main exceptions being Christmas and Easter. They're such a rare treat that the Well Seasoned team always like to push the boat out and hopefully you did too this weekend. For the first three days of the Easter break we were treated to some pretty decent weather and, well, it wouldn't be a bank holiday without a downpour so we'll gloss over Monday's meteorological mishap. For seasonal sports fans there was plenty of drama with the delayed Boat Race and some welcome good news in the cricket.

Food-wise we tucked into souper-seasonal nettle soup followed by new-season lamb and some of the first new potatoes of the year. Rhubarb is still very much on the menu and our rhubarb and ginger fool was just the ticket to round off a fabulous Easter blow out.

So, despite the fact that we're only just coming out of the "hungry gap" there is a good amount of food to choose from at Easter and we certainly enjoyed ours. However, one of the real benefits of having Monday off work is the opportunity to have a tipple when you'd normally be getting ready for bed and setting the alarm clock and so it was on Sunday night as we cracked open some Otter Ale. Having drunk our way through a couple of bottles we thought it was fair to review them for the blog.

Now, the more alert amongst you will know that Otter are sponsoring our Summer competition so it's a little hard to claim this is an entirely impartial review. Nevertheless, as a British brewery using quality natural ingredients, hopefully you'll still be interested to read our thoughts on Otter's flagship brew. The first thing you notice when you open the bottle is a rich, malty but fresh aroma with definite hints of caramel. Pour the drink into a glass and you see more of that caramel richness; the ale is a beautiful rich, coppery brown. The beer is made with spring water from the River Otter and that certainly comes across in the light, fresh flavour. It is creamy, malty and rich without being heavy. Without wanting to upset the real ale purists (and possibly the guys at Otter!) we're pretty sure it would also make a great bitter shandy on a Summer's afternoon. Otter is a fine British brew which should please most real ale drinkers whilst offering newcomers an easy entry-level taster.

As a spotty bank worker in an ill-fitting suit said in the early 90s "it's not all work, work, work." and that's very much how we felt late on Sunday night as we sat surrounded by the remains of our Easter roast, a couple of empty bottles and a mound of crumpled Easter egg wrappers. We hope you had a good one too.

Otter 1

 

Fur enough?

Posted Thursday, 22 March 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

An interesting and slightly unsettling piece of news caught our eye this week. It's not strictly about food but it does involve animal ethics, a subject close to our hearts at Well Seasoned.

The Advertising Standard Authority has banned an advert placed by fur producers suggesting that fur is "eco-friendly". The advert, which you can see below, claims that "fur lasts a lifetime, is naturally long-lasting, can be recycled easily and biodegrades." The advert has been banned. So far, so good you might think. But the ASA's reasoning for banning it was not based on any kind of ethical stance against fur trading. It was because the advertisers had failed to show that the trade doesn't cause environmental damage. The ASA said "Because we did not consider that we had seen sufficient evidence that the product would cause no environmental damage, taking account of the full life cycle of the product from manufacture to disposal, we concluded that the ad was likely to mislead." Thus, from the regulator's perspective it was simply an evidential issue; the claim had not been proven. The logical conclusion of this reasoning is that, had the fur traders produced evidence that they cause no environmental damage, the advert would have been permitted.

Now, we know we're on a controversial subject here. We might cause some offence with what we're about to discuss but bear with us and let's consider it a little further.

Could a fashion fur producer demonstrate sustainability and, if they can, should they be allowed to use the "eco-friendly" tag? It's not actually that hard to envisage; imagine a rabbit farmer intensively rearing animals in a rural location. Rabbits are easy to breed; they reproduce quickly and eat low-nutritional vegetation so maybe they could be fed waste material from a nearby farm. Their dung could be recycled by spreading back on to the fields. Culling and curing could take place on-site with bio-diesel vehicles shipping the finished product to local clothes producers and carcases being incinerated with the ash also being used as fertilizer.

Naturally, we're not suggesting that anyone should actually do this. But the fact is that the environmental impact of such an operation could be relatively low. The carbon footprint of the business would be minimal and it's perfectly possible that the producer could demonstrate "sustainability" in the technical sense that most people understand it. On that basis, the ASA would permit the advert and the farmer could call his operation "eco-friendly". And yet, most people would agree that something definitely doesn't feel right about that.

But then, what if the rabbits carcasses were made into pet food? Would that make us feel better? Maybe a little. At least the animals wouldn't be completely wasted. What if they went to local restaurants or farmers markets? And perhaps, instead of being intensively farmed, they were free range or even organic? In those circumstances the fur might essentially be a by-product. Many people would start to feel a lot more comfortable with that (and maybe even suggest that it would be wrong to waste the fur).

Some readers will say it's never acceptable to use animals for clothing and will be disgusted that the fur lobby has tried to take this line. Some may say it's fine. Others (and we suspect the majority) will sit somewhere in the middle and agree that it's not always black and white. So this isn't about right or wrong. The real lesson to take away is that labels and environmental claims need to be scrutinised. As ethical consumers, it's our duty not to take advertising at face value but to probe deeper and find out the facts behind the claims. In many cases it's easier said than done, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. In fact, its vital that we do.

Eco-friendly?

Forgotten favourites

Posted Monday, 12 March 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

We were delighted to read this piece from the BBC today on rediscovering forgotten foods. Regular readers will know we've been banging on about it for some time. Despite what the article headline says, it's not "bizarre" food that we're talking about, just traditional produce that has fallen out of favour because it can't be mass produced or because the skills needed to produce it have been lost. It's an important recognition that "however much foodies stamp their feet and say they only want us to use local shops, they have to accept that supermarkets are here to stay" We're certainly amongst those foodies but we recognise that, whether we like it or not, supermarkets are a fact of life. As well as continuing to support local retailers, we need to work with the multiples to encourage them to buy from small regional producers. So, we say well done to Booths and Slow Food for taking this important step. Time will tell if Booths are truly committed to the project but, if they are, it could be the blueprint for a country-wide revolution.

What's in a name II

Posted Saturday, 3 March 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

Last month we blogged about honest food labelling. It's time that producers and retailers were completely honest with consumers so that we can make informed choices about our food. Compassion in World Farming have just announced a new campaign for 2012 that we'll be supporting. The aim, essentially, is to have the same labelling laws for dairy and meat as we have for eggs. EU law now dictates that egg producers have to say if eggs are from caged hens, indoor-reared animals or free range. It's a clear and simple requirement that lets shoppers decide, on a fully informed basis, between products on offer. There's no reason why the same laws shouldn't be applied to dairy and meat. As CIWF puts it "Consumers want to be able to choose foods that ensure higher animal welfare. We believe that all foods should be honestly labelled, not only those such as Organic and Freedom Food that actively promote higher welfare. It’s time that we knew where our food comes from and how it is farmed." Quite. You can find out more about CIWF's campaign HERE. This Sunday (March 4th) Compassion’s Philip Lymbery will speak on BBC One’s Countryfile about how food labelling must change to help deliver higher welfare for farm animals. Tune in, check out the website and show your support for clear food labelling.

CIWF unlabelled meat

Fishfight - update

Posted Friday, 24 February 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

We've just heard some seriously disappointing news, via the Fishfight Campaign, from the influencial Environmental and Rural Affairs Committee. They've recommended that the practice of discarding dead but undersized or over-quota fish be permitted to continue until 2020. It seems utterly absurd that, after a year of massive publicity, some abnormally quick action from the EU and overwhelming public support, that our own government is holding back from implementing this measure. Yes, it's a complicated issue. Yes, it's difficult too introduce an overnight ban. But with more than half of all fish being thrown back dead into the sea, do we really need 8 years to come up with a solution?

You can bet your life that if one lamb was being killed and discarded for every one that made it onto the supermarket shelves, we'd see some quicker action. For some reason fish and our precious marine resources just don't matter as much.

Fishfigh small

What's in a name?

Posted Wednesday, 22 February 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  3 Comment(s)

The Sunday Times recently reported that a Norfolk pig farm had been guilty of long term neglect of it's animals. It was a shocking and tragic case with pigs apparently suffering widespread mistreatment and cruelty on a farm certified by the Red Tractor Scheme. But, the otherwise accurate article was marred by an important misrepresentation. The story was published under the headline “Pigs are beaten to death on ‘ethical’ farm”

So what's the mistake? Well, the Red Tractor Scheme (RTS) is not an "ethical" scheme as most consumers would understand it. It is a "quality assurance" scheme but that does not ensure higher than average welfare conditions for animals.

Now, before we go any further, this is not an attack on the RTS. The organisation does a great deal to ensure minimum standards in UK farming and has issued a clear and unambiguous statement condemning what was found on the farm in question. But that does not take away from the critical issue that there is still widespread confusion and uncertainty around food labels and welfare schemes in the country. How can we, as consumers, be expected to make informed choices, and use our purchasing power for the good of animal welfare, if we don't know what we are buying?

Two widely used schemes in the country are the Red Tractor Scheme and Lion Eggs. According to Compassion in World Farming, these labels simply mean:

- These food labels mostly ensure compliance with minimum legislative requirements for both standard and free-range production (in terms of animal welfare provision)
- Most, but not all, British meat, eggs and milk are certified to these standards
- The standards do little to prevent the serious welfare issues of confinement in cages, high stocking densities, fast-growing breeds and many mutilations
- Some of the standards do not enforce minimum legislative requirements adequately (e.g. prohibition of routine tail docking in pigs and the provision of appropriate manipulable material for pigs)
- Some of the standards are higher than minimum legislative requirements (e.g. castration of pigs is not allowed and sows have not been kept in stalls since 1999; maximum permissible stocking densities for broiler chickens are lower than both EU and national legislation.)

So, in many ways, buying into these assurance schemes does not guarantee you much more than you can already expect from any British producer. There is certainly no guarantee of significantly higher ethical or welfare standards than those required by law.

To make matters worse, in addition to the quality assurance schemes, producers are still able to use a range of potentially misleading words. Amongst our "favourites" are Fresh, Natural, Farm fresh, Barn fresh, Traditional and Heritage. Each of these has certain connotations but, apart from general consumer laws (which dictate that the public cannot be mislead) there are no restrictions on their use. So "100% traditional farm-fresh eggs" say nothing about the welfare conditions of the hens. Even if they came with the Lion Mark, you would be none the wiser; there is no reason why those eggs should not be your average intensively farmed variety (and they very probably are).

Remember, it costs more to produce Organic and Free Range produce and use of the terms is regulated by law. Shoppers pay a premium for them and so retailers and producers tend to shout about it. If it doesn't explicitly say it on the box, it almost certainly isn't. Become an educated consumer. Click here to read CIWF's detailed guide on food welfare labelling.

Some eggs-act maths

Posted Friday, 10 February 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

We were delighted to read this piece in the Independent last week reporting that, in the UK this year for the first time we'll buy more free range eggs than intensively farmed ones. As we blogged at the beginning of the year "traditional" battery cages are now banned in the UK. We still have a large number of caged hens but they must now be kept in "enriched" cages. So, there is still a long way to go before we can claim to be a free-range country but it is definitely progress.

If you have yet to make the free range switch, consider this:

According to the International Egg Commission, the UK average egg consumption per person is approximately 180 eggs a year, or just under 3.5 eggs a week. For a family of 4 that works out as 14 eggs per week. Having just checked the Tesco website (because it's the biggest supermarket) we found the following prices:

  • Cheapest Value hens eggs (10 pack) £0.08 each
  • Free range eggs (two dozen) on multi-buy offer £0.16 each
  • Cage Free barn eggs (two dozen) on multi-buy offer £0.175 each
  • Cage Free barn eggs (dozen) £0.20 each
  • Free range eggs (dozen) £0.21 each

So yes, the cheapest Value eggs are, per egg, considerably less and that is probably why so many shoppers are put off from buying free range. But have they actually done the maths? For our family of four, eating an average number of eggs, even if they swap from the very cheapest to the most expensive eggs, that works out at an extra £1.82 a week. If they take advantage of the multi-buy offer, that reduces to a difference of just £1.12, for a whole family to eat better quality eggs from happy chickens. Just 28p per person. Of course, there are families in the country for whom these figures do make a real difference, but ask yourself if yours is really one of them. And if not, surely it's a price worth paying?

Run down batteries

Posted Wednesday, 11 January 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

We were delighted when, at the very end of 2011 it was announced that the last battery hen in the UK had been rehoused. This followed decades of campaigning from animal welfare groups and, ultimately, an EU wide ban on keeping laying hens in battery cages. The new position still isn't ideal. In the UK we still keep chickens in small cages but they are now "enriched" (with litter, perches and claw-shortening devices) and larger. Disappointingly though, it seems that several countries in the EU, despite being subject to the same legislation, are not yet complying with the ban. The British Egg Industry Council claims that more than a third of EU cage egg production will break the new rules, with more than 80 million hens still being kept in illegal cages in 2012. So there's more work to be done but at least the changes are coming and thr UK is leading the way.

Back in 2009 one of our first ever Well Seasoned adventures (and one of the very first posts on our old blog) was a day spent with campaigners from Compassion in World Farming collecting signatures for their petition against battery cages. We're really pleased and proud to have played a small part in that campaign and delighted to now be seeing the fruits of those labours.

If you'd like to help to rehouse or sponsor an ex-battery hen, try getting in get in touch with the British Hen Welfare Trust, the charity that that re-homes battery hens and educates the public about how they can make a difference to hen welfare.

Here's to a free range future.

Game set and match: Doing the McDougal

Posted Monday, 9 January 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

In John Buchan's 1925 novel, 'John Macnab', three rich but bored London gentlemen decide to go poaching on Scottish game estates. Over time this led to something known as the Macnab Challenge where country sports enthusiasts aim to bag a stag, a brace of grouse and a salmon, all within a 24-hour period. Clearly those kind of activities don't come cheap and the Well Seasoned team are unlikely to be undertaking the Macnab Challenge any time soon. However, last weekend we were invited to try something a little more within our reach, known as the McDougal.

Taking place in leafy Sussex rather than the craggy glens of Scotland, the McDougal is run by Doug Chalmers at his small sporting estate just outside Battle in East Sussex. The aim of his Macnab-inspired challenge is to go rough shooting in the morning to bag a cock pheasant then, over lunch, to use its tail feathers to tie, unassisted, a fishing fly known as a "pheasant tail nymph". After lunch, you then have to use your own hand-tied fly to catch a trout in one of the estate's two lakes.

Never ones to turn down a challenge, on Saturday morning, whilst the sun was just rising, our team of four set off for deepest, darkest Sussex to the very spot where the Saxon Army camped before the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It was mild, dry and bright with a gentle breeze - perfect for a day in the countryside - and, as we joined Doug and head keeper Roy in the fishing lodge for bacon sandwiches, coffee and our safety briefing, we knew we were in for a treat. At around 10am we set off. Throughout the morning, as we strolled through the fields, hedges and woodlands of the 85 acre estate, several pheasants noisily took to the air but the majority of them were hens rather than the cock pheasants we needed for the challenge. By lunchtime, the low number of cock pheasants combined with some pretty shoddy shooting skills meant we had bagged 8 birds in total with only two cock birds - only two of the team were still in with a chance of completing the McDougal. Nevertheless, for them, the challenge was on!

After a hearty lunch of venison stew, apple pie and a glass or two of red wine we plucked some of the impressive, long tail feathers from the cock pheasants and were introduced to the ancient art of fly tying. As you might expect, Doug's decades of experience made it look very easy. Tiny snippets of feathers, some fine wire and a small brass bead were tied onto the tiny fishing hook to resemble the freshwater nymphs that typically inhabit the chalk streams of southern England. The rules of the challenge are simple but strict - you have to catch the trout with your own fly. If you lose it in the grass (a common fate for first time fly fishermen) you have to find it or tie another one. There's no borrowing from the kit box if you want to be a successful McDougler.

After 30 minutes or so of patient tuition, we all had something that could just about be said to resemble a fly and so, on the dot of 2pm, we set off towards the lakes armed with our rods. We were a bit sceptical - not only was our fly-tying handiwork pretty poor, but January is also a hard time to catch trout. At this time of year they usually move towards deeper water where it is marginally warmer and the fish are suspicious of flies because there aren't naturally many of them around in the winter. Yet, incredibly, Nick, one of our number, with his very first cast, found himself reeling in a decent sized fish - a beautiful, silver rainbow trout. The rest of the team looked on enviously as he played the fish into the landing net. Sadly for him, he already knew he wasn't going to be a McDougler because he'd failed in the morning's quest for a pheasant. But he'd shown us that it could be done and, fired up, the rest of us set about casting our own.

Within forty minutes there were two more fish in the bag but both from the pheasant-less anglers. The mild, calm weather meant we were having an unseasonably good day on the trout. Surely it was only a matter of time before one of the two challenge contenders caught their own? Unfortunately, they were demonstrating rather less natural talent with the rods. Despite more patient mentoring from Doug and his team, the trout just weren't going for their flies. Mind you, it helps if your fly is actually in the water; Tom, one of the contenders, did indeed manage to get his fly snagged on the lawn behind him and lost a good 20 minutes of fishing time doggedly hunting for his hook which he knew to be "somewhere in the grass". After a full two hours of arm-aching casting they were still without a nibble and reluctantly reeled in at 4pm when the whistle blew to signal the end of the challenge.

So, challenge failed but honours fairly even among the team, we returned to the lodge for tea and cakes. We weren't too disheartened; only something like 1 in 6 successfully complete the challenge and the day would hardly have had the same excitement if we'd be guaranteed success. We left the estate well fed, with a brace of birds each and three trout between us, all of which would be prepared for the pot over the weekend. All in all, a wonderful day out in some beautiful countryside and, as we crunched up the estate's gravel driveway back to our cars, we firmly resolved to return next year for another attempt.

Both fishing and shooting are emotive subjects and rightly prompt people to consider the moral issues involved. Killing your own food, and shooting it in particular, is obviously not something to be taken lightly but we strongly feel that, done properly, these are some of the most defensible ways of gathering and eating your food. The birds we shot and the fish that we caught had all lived wild or virtually wild lives and had been as happy and free range as it is possible to be. They were then swiftly and humanely dispatched, every one of them to be savoured by the person who caught or shot it and who appreciates its value even more so because of that. If you're a principled vegetarian then you are unlikely ever to think that killing your own food is right. On the other hand, if we eat any meat or fish (and 95% of the population do), our duty must be to ensure that the animals we eat live comfortable lives and are treated with respect. Wild or near-wild animals live happier lives that any of their farmed cousins and, provided we can be confident of a quick dispatch when the time comes, it's hard to see how that is not a better alternative. If you ever get the opportunity to go shooting or fishing for your own food, do at least consider it. Taking an active part in the catching of fish and the shooting of game is a great way to get into our beautiful British countryside and to appreciate, first hand, the source of your food.

Trout

A purple patch

Posted Thursday, 5 January 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

With its dark green and purple florets, purple sprouting broccoli (or PSB as it is affectionately known in the Barn) is at its best from late January to April. And that's a good thing too because, when it comes to leafy greens, PSB and Kale are pretty much all there is in the "Hungry Gap". PSB is a very flavoursome vegetable and makes a great companion to pretty much any meat or fish. It's also well worth considering as the star of the show in any dish where you're tempted to use imported asparagus. It cooks very quickly with steaming or boiling taking 5 to 6 minutes and stir fried taking just a minute or two. Why don't we eat more of it? Who knows. As a nation, we love "proper" broccoli and PSB has been grown in good volumes in the UK for several decades now. If it's health benefits you're after, PSB contains sulphoraphane (which is thought to help prevent cancer) and is full of vitamin C, iron, folic acid and fibre. Poor quality PSB can be a bit tough and woody, so it's possible some people have been scarred by bad experiences. More likely though, people just never get round to trying it. So, maybe the revolution starts here. When you're in the shops this week, get the SP on their PSB and give it a go.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Carp-e diem

Posted Monday, 2 January 2012  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

In Spring of this year we wrote a blog piece about eating carp. Having spoken to a few niche producers, we were pretty sure that there was something of a revival going on for this flavoursome (if fiddly) freshwater fish. We thought that it wouldn't be long before we saw it in the shops and, lo and behold, on our trip to Southwark last weekend we saw a huge pile of fresh mirror carp on the slab of Borough Market's biggest fishmonger. We're hardly going to take the credit for this new trend in London's foodie-central but it's nice to be proved right occasionally. Annoyingly, we didn't have a camera with us so you'll just have to imagine the scene. Think big, green and weirdly scaly (the fish, not us).

Menu mathematics

Posted Monday, 19 December 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

As seasonal food fans we try to embrace the changes that the seasons bring to our diet and, by definition, this means we accept that some things just aren't available all year round. That got us thinking though; what sort of menu could you construct with British ingredients that are good at any time of the year? As New Years Eve approaches, we reckon there are at least 20 tasty ingredients that you could safely resolve to eat without ever having to resort to imported varieties:

Veg

Onions
Potatoes
Spinach
Carrots

Fish

Cod
Crab
Lobster
Mackerel
Mussels
Oysters
Pollock
Salmon
Scallops
Seabass

Wild meat

Rabbit
Boar
Pigeon

Reared meat

Beef
Pork
Chicken
Lamb

If an average dish requires 6 ingredients, then some basic maths suggests there are something like 38,000 completely different combinations here, and 27 million combinations in total. OK, beef with lamb and mussels might not work but you get the idea!   

Mussels: Good all year round

 

Jamie's Jack

Posted Monday, 28 November 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  1 Comment(s)

Last week we were told that Jamie Oliver's latest restaurant, Union Jacks, was open for business. With rumours of it being an all new British food concept, we jumped to it.

Not content with Jamie's Italian, which now boasts some 20 branches across the UK, the nation's favourite Essex Boy has teamed up with Chris Bianco (owner of Pizzeria Bianco in the US) and decided that what the country really needs is a new pizza joint. Sorry, not pizza but "British flats" ("I'm churning pizzas out in the Italian, so we've got to come up with something completely different. Only, not that different because Mr Bianco here only knows about pizza"). The restaurant had a soft launch on 11 November and is now in full swing.

"Where wood-fired flatbreads meet great British flavours" is pretty much all the sparse Union Jack's website tells you. Beyond that, there's very little online about what Jamie is trying to achieve with this place. So, armed with virtually no information but looking forward to a "journey of discovery through Britain" and Jack's promise to "reintroduce you to familiar flavours, cooked and presented the Union Jacks way" last Friday night we made our way through London's bustling Theatreland to the new St Giles complex in Covent Garden to see what was cooking.

A 360 degree glass sided box at the bottom of an ultra modern office block (upper floors still unoccupied) is always going to be hard to put your stamp on, but from the outside the place looked fresh and was certainly full. We were greeted by a lively, young waitress who showed us to our formica table where we sat on two artfully distressed 70's style school chairs. In the open plan kitchen behind us we could see a large wood-fired pizza oven and above it, on a large American diner-type display, the menu. What utterly baffled us was what the vibe of this place was meant to be. Is it a seaside cafe? A 70s tea shop? Or a When Harry Met Sally style diner? It was all just rather confused.

Dodgy decor aside, the menu is commendably brimming with locally-sourced produce. All of the feature ingredients are achingly British (Cornish sardines, Westcombe Cheddar, Norfolk chicken livers) and the cheery Britpop soundtrack which accompanied our meal hammered home the point that the decor didn't - this is England (or Britain), definitely not Italy - got that?

An impressive list of British wines, beers and ciders is on offer to accompany your chosen slice of green and pleasant land and the menu generously lists all of the restaurant's regional suppliers, down to the chap who sells the wood for the ovens. The main course menu consists entirely of the aforementioned British flats - that is, a flat bread creatively topped with British ingredients including, in each case, a British cheese, and we jumped straight in with a Red Ox (oxtail & brisket, slow braised in Worcestershire sauce, Sparkenhoe Red Leicester, watercress & fresh horseradish) and a Woodman (mixed field & wild mushrooms, Westcombe Cheddar, pickled red onion, tarragon & chervil). The Red Ox was rich and flavoursome with a decent peppery kick from both the watercress and the horseradish. But the Red Leicester cheese became a bit cloying after a few slices and it was rather like eating a giant cheese on toast with Worcester sauce (excellent midnight feast, just not necessarily something to pay twelve quid for). The Woodman mushrooms were succulent and chunky but again it was let down by the cheese and by the end of the main course we could feel our arteries clogging. 

The Italians are rather good at doing pizza and have been at it for quite a long time so they know a thing or two about this and it's not by chance that mozerella is a pizza cheese. It stays soft and light when baked and does not share the same rich fattiness as hard cheeses. Understandably, having decided that this is a British restaurant, Jamie wants to use British cheese. Now, that's wholly laudable and there are plenty of great British cheeses out there that work brilliantly on pizza, but Jamie isn't using them. In the same way as the decor, it just feels rather hastily put together when a bit more time could have yielded something much more rounded.

For pudding, we were tempted by the treacle tart and retro Arctic Roll but opted for a couple of scoops of home made ice cream - one Marathon/Snickers and one of Earl Grey tea - and a pot of tea. The ice creams were both delicious, perfectly textured and a great balance of flavour and creaminess. Our pot of tea came in a knitted tea cosy; a final fluffy reminder (just in case we'd forgotten) that even peach and mango fruit tea can still be so very English. Pukka.

Top marks for the idea (obviously, you won't get any argument from us that British food, or at least British ingredients, is 100% where it's at) and top marks for service (friendly, professional and attentive throughout) but a bit more time is needed both on the menu and the surroundings to keep this particular flag flying.

Good Produce Guide 2012

Posted Thursday, 24 November 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  16 Comment(s)

You know all of those great little artisan shops and producers - that independent cheese emporium down the road, or the bountifully stocked farm shop you simply must visit "when we're next down that way"? Wouldn't it be great if someone compiled a compendium of all of these hidden foodie gems? Well, that's exactly what Rose Prince, longstanding food writer for the Telegraph, has attempted with the Telegraph Good Produce Guide 2012. Now in it's third year, the guide lists over a thousand of Britain's most talented local producers and shops with detailed listings for each including location, opening hours, website and contact details.

The book is handily divided into regions and then into categories including markets, delis, butchers, fish & seafood and dairies. So, for example, if you find yourself in the Devon dying to find a local honey producer, a quick flick through the new "artisan" category of the "West Country" section reveals no less than six likely candidates in the region, together with a brief review of each. A basic map for each locality helps further narrow down your search. Added extras include seasonality charts, a smattering of the better UK food festivals and contact details for some useful organisations likely to be of interest (such as the Marine Conservation Society and Slow Food UK).

By definition, the guide is an ambitious project. We know from our own experience that Britain is brimming over with great quality, small producers who often don't do enough shouting about what they are up to. Rose Prince obviously knows her stuff when it comes to quality food and it's clear from the entries that she has first hand experience of a good number, if not all, of the entries and a good deal of work has gone into compiling the guide.

The guide doesn't claim to be a comprehensive and with "only" a thousand or so entries for the whole country it's inevitable that some will miss out. That said, there are some established favourites of ours who we'd have expected to see but who don't feature. It's hard to say why some don't make the cut but a glimpse at a couple of the maps would suggest that there are some areas that would benefit from some more detailed local research.

Within categories, the entries are listed alphabetically, meaning that if you know the name of the shop you're looking for, you can find it easily. But we thought we'd be more likely to find ourselves touring around and then consulting the map to see what producers were in the area. Browsing in this way is harder because, curiously, the numerical order used on the maps doesn't correspond with the alphabetical one and so, for the sake of a couple of extra pages we'd like to have seen a numerical index included. We felt larger and more detailed maps would also improve usability.

The guide does feel hastily compiled in places. We spotted several typos, particularly in website addresses and even the odd publisher's comment which should have been removed pre-printing, which will no doubt frustrate both the producers and readers trying to find them. Given that is it only the third annual publication, and future contributions are actively invited, we'd expect both the quality and quantity of entries to improve with future editions. Frustrations aside, the book has a good go at compiling a great deal of information on our artisan and independent producers in one place and that aim is certainly laudable. A decent number of great producers are listed, including some which we thought only we knew about! It makes for a helpful and interesting companion for the travelling foodie and we'll be keeping our copy in the Landy's glove box for our next tour around the country.

The Telegraph Good Produce Guide 2012 is available to buy now and at £12.99 is well priced for a Christmas present for your favourite festive foodie. We also have a copy to give away. To enter, just leave a comment below with the name and location of your favourite local artisan producer or retailer. We'll pass all your comments and recommendations on to the Good Produce Guide for inclusion in next year's edition.

 
Good Produce Guide

Sloe and boaring it isn't

Posted Wednesday, 14 September 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

It's no fluke that things which grow at the same time of year often taste good together. Our forager ancestors learned to couple their freshly caught summer fish with the samphire growing in the nearby marshes and to match their autumn pork with the local apples that the pigs had fed on. Our tastebuds have evolved with the same instinctive ability to pair flavours and, of course, seasonal eating is all about combining the best natural ingredients which are available at the same time. So, with our hedgerows bursting with sloes and with the game season kicking off, we were very excited to be able to try some of the the Real Boar Company's 'wild boar with sloe gin' salami recently. It's a great combination for this time of year. A Great Taste 2011 double gold star winner, the salami has the distinct gamey richness of wild boar with a mellow, fruity and spicy sloe gin twist. We've raved about the RBC and wild boar before (their salamis are apparently sold in three of the top five restaurants in the world and in establishments holding a total of 15 Michelin stars!) and this year's offering is no exception. Definitely worth considering if you're putting together an autumnal plate of British charcuterie.

Real Boar Co

Tea Total

Posted Thursday, 8 September 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

Well Seasoned is all about British food and drink and, since it's often thought of as the quintessential British drink, it seems fair that we should do a feature on tea at some point, even if it doesn't grow here and we can't call it seasonal in any meaningful way!

As a nation we've been drinking the stuff for more than 350 years but how did a drink, whose story begins in China, end up as a stalwart feature of British life? Time for a potted history of tea...

Take yourself back to 2737 BC. The story is that a Chinese emperor was sitting under a tree in his garden whilst a servant boiled some drinking water. Some leaves from a nearby tree fell into the water and the Emperor decided to drink it anyway. The tree was a Chinese tea tree (Camellia sinensis) and thus the drink was born.

In terms of European tea drinking, this didn't start until the late 1500s when Portuguese traders and missionaries working in the East brought samples back to their home country. At this time, Britain was still behind the curve and the East India Company still had a monopoly on imports from the region. Although British tea drinking on a small scale was happening by the 1600s, it was Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II who really kick started the trend. She was Portuguese and her love of tea ensured it became a fashionable drink across the country. The end of the East India Company's monopoly on trade with China (after it ceased operations in 1834) also meant the tea trade became an open market, further boosting sales. By the middle of the 18th Century tea had become the nation's favourite drink (replacing the far less healthy ale and gin!) and according to the British Tea Council (could an institution get any more British?) 165 million cups of tea are now drunk in Britain every day. That's an astonishing average of 3 cups per person.

We recently sampled some new fruit teas sent to us by our friend Richard at Storm Tea, a company founded over a decade ago and one of few remaining small tea merchants in the country. Among the goodies we tried was a very funky box of organic Red Berry and Rose tea, one of Storm's range of fruit infusions to accompany their more traditional teas like English breakfast and Earl Grey (all certified organic).

As we mulled over our plans for the Autumn season in the Barn last week, we boiled the kettle and brewed up a few cups. The Red Berry's undeniably full and fruity aroma was matched by the taste. Fruit teas can sometimes promise a lot but deliver little. Storm's was full bodied and flavoursome, evoking memories of early autumn hedgerows. Hibiscus, rosehips and rose petals infused to create a pleasingly fruity, warming and characterful drink which we thought would be a particularly good start to those crisp and bright autumnal mornings. As a caffiene-free alternative, Storm's fruity offering might not quite match the punchy "black with five sugars" the Twig demands before his dawn foraging sessions, but it's apparantly full of vitamins to help to stave off those early winter colds. If you fancy something different from your normal builders brew, take a look at Storm's website.

Storm Tea

You call that a tomato? This is a tomato

Posted Wednesday, 10 August 2011  /  Written by Alex  /  Post a Comment

Some of the WS team were on tour again last weekend. I crossed the channel for a friend’s wedding in Toulouse and whilst our warm weather often seems to result in the local Footlocker being ransacked then burnt to the ground, the heat and humidity of the Haute-Garonne (an area just north of the Pyrenees about 400km from Barcelona) appears to encourage people to grow some pretty special tomatoes.

Whilst my plants at home have struggled through the summer (“not enough soil” says the Twig), the market tables in Place Capitole in Toulouse were heaving under the weight of some really gnarly, beastly looking fruits (almost certainly a number of varieties of Heritage and Marmande in some extraordinary colours).

I know it's not the 1990s, Floyd isn't on the box anymore (RIP) and that we're all spending our summer holidays in teepees in Cornwall, but France and the French still do it for me every now and again. Gazing at the tomatoes in the market I had a bit of an RSM* when I thought of the insipid, underripe, flavourless, anaemic pish that we’re often sold by supermarkets over here.

However, I quickly pulled myself together when I remembered that we can grow (and I regularly buy) some very flavoursome, cooler-climate varieties of our own. Granted, we don’t have the sunshine to ripen the monstrous beefsteaks, but there is much to appreciate in the British tomato. The stats below (via the British Tomato Growers’ Association) show the type of tommies we grow in the UK and confirm that we very much favour the smaller, cool-climate varieties:

Classic 48%
Cherry 19%
Cocktail 11%
Plum (baby plum, midi plum and large plum) 21%
Beef 1%

But this does not mean that our fruits lack flavour. Far from it. Left to ripen fully, they have a deep, sweet, satisfying flavour that is magnificent and British. The majority of basic tomatoes imported from overseas have often been picked very quickly so that they’re firm, travel well, but taste dreadful. Don't waste your time. Do your best to find and support UK growers by asking for British varieties at the supermarket, heading to the farmers’ market or growing your own.

I have a summer obsession with a quick and easily-tumbled-together salad of heritage tomatoes, some sweet red onion, thyme leaves, good olive oil, quality red-wine vinegar (the current favourite, flavour savour) and some Maldon sea salt. Mopped up with a hunk of sourdough, this makes for an amazing weekend afternoon snack.

Keep it red, juicy and seasonal!


* Rick Stein Momentnoun. Spontaneous, critical rant focussed on the lack of quality produce sold in the UK, usually accompanied by an increasingly ruddy complexion (or sunburn), mild sweating and a restaurant plug.

Tomato

(Not the) Last of the Summer Wine (yet)...........

Posted Friday, 29 July 2011  /  Written by Patrick  /  Post a Comment

Introducing Well Seasoned's seasonal wine blog, by Patrick!

Generally on the Well Seasoned Blog we focus on seasonal food. We've always thought there are two elements to the enjoyment of seasonal food: (1) that the food is grown in the season and (2) that the food is a type of food which we enjoy eating in a particular season. So, for example, we enjoy eating a warm hearty beef stew on a cold December's day and on a balmy Summer afternoon trying a zingy salad like Alex's cumin mackerel, beetroot and thyme chutney.

This second element of seasonal eating is also, we think, particularly applicable to wine. Does anyone drink a light rose in February? or would a heavy Shiraz really work with a sunny picnic in July? Probably not. But, do we enjoy a glass of Pinot Grigio in the sunshine? well, yes, almost certainly!

So, we thought that, starting this Summer, each season we'd provide our thoughts on which wines, we think, work best for the season. Of course, it always depends on what you are eating (not to mention spending!) and so to keep us focussed, each season we will give you a few recommendations as to general good value types of wine that befit the season, next we will choose a key seasonal ingredient and recipe, and then match a type of wine to it. Finally we will have a third category: British wine of the season.

So, here we go:

Good Summer Wines

For lunches and evenings outside in the sunshine (pah - when it is here!), we like light Rose d'Anjou from the Loire or other fresh and citrus based white Loire wines such as Touraine or Vouvray. If you want something a little more floral go for a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc. Summer salads with interesting leaves like endive, rocket and radicchio or which are loaded with herbs and garlic have fairly strong flavours and are best suited by fairly neutral wines such as wines from the Pinot Grigio or Pinot Blanc/Bianco grapes.

Match the Ingredient

Lamb is bang in season now with the young sheep having grown to a good enough size to make it to the table. For a lamb recipe try our New Season Lamb with Samphire and Lemon Thyme Gremolata. Lamb goes well with most red wines and Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot wines provide excellent complimentary wines. For the dish recommended above, however, there is a sense of Summer and freshness in the gremolata. Matching wine with lemon can be tricky, but we have found that rustic reds such as Italian Chiantis and Valpolicellas or a Rioja Reserva should provide the necessary balance to this tasty Summer supper.

Best of British

At the moment our research is very light in this area and we are open to suggestions. One wine we will recommend is the sparkling wine made at Chapel Down. I had some at my Grandmother's 80th birthday party on a scorching day and it was absolutely delicious. Chapel Down's sparkling pinot noir wins our Summer 2011 Best of British wine. 

If you're in the mood for some wine with your Summer recipes, M&S have a decent wine offer on at the moment which might be worth trying.  Let us know if you have any thoughts or suggestion on the above and we'd love to know what you're drinking with your seasonal menus this month.

What goes well with pumpkin soup, baked potatoes and bonfire smoke? Find out in our next wine blog in the Autumn! 

A raw deal

Posted Wednesday, 20 July 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  5 Comment(s)

Last weekend the Well Seasoned team bought something at a local farmers' market. By law it had to come with a printed health warning and could only be sold to us by the person who made it; it would have been illegal for a supermarket to sell it. What was this mystery ingredient, so potentially injurious to human health? It was cows milk. Not ordinary, pasteurised milk though, but "raw" or "real" milk. This is the milk of olden days, straight from the cow and which has foregone the pasteurising process that most people now expect (and to which all supermarket milk is, by law, subject.)

Less than 0.01% of milk sold in the UK is raw. To its fans it is the food of the gods, next to which the shop-bought stuff pales in comparison. To many food safety experts however, it is a potentially serious health risk, harbouring bacteria such as salmonella and E.coli. In England the government allows people to make an informed choice about buying raw milk by insisting that bottles come with a warning that "This milk has not been heat treated and may therefore contain organisms harmful to health.". In Scotland, sales are banned altogether.

So who's right? Well, the Food Standards Agency say that between 1992 and 1999, half of all milk-related food poisoning cases in the UK were due to raw milk (none, incidentally, was fatal). They also point to the fact that in the past many people contracted tuberculosis from raw milk. On the other hand, raw milk suppliers say that the data is old and the health risks exaggerated (we are talking about hundreds, rather than thousands of cases, spread over that seven year period.) Further, they say thatRaw milk from Hook & Son in many ways raw milk is positively good for you since pasteurisation kills off many of the enzymes, vitamins and bacteria that are good for the human digestive system. Certainly, since 1985 when the laws were last updated, dairy safety and hygiene standards have improved - reported cases of illness are pretty few and far between - and the anecdotal evidence is that raw milk may be helpful to people suffering from a range of conditions including asthma and, curiously, lactose intolerance.

So, it's probably a fair summary that the risks associated with raw milk are real but rare. But why would anyone want to buy untreated milk, even if the risks are small? Well, the simple answer is that it just tastes much better. As well as our farmers' market milk, we bought some raw milk butter from organic milk producers Hook & Son, based in Hailsham, East Sussex. Both were delicious (and neither made us ill!) They are undeniably richer and smoother products than their pasteurised counterparts. The milk was sweet and creamy, the butter was full-flavoured and extremely... well, buttery. There is little doubt that raw milk wins on flavour.

Raw cows milk isn't the only real milk out there either. Sam Steggles runs Fielding Cottage, a raw goat milk producer. He suggests that goats milk is a good alternative for those wanting to try raw milk. "Goat's milk is less allergic - it doesn't contain the complex protein that stimulates allergic reactions to cow's milk. Goat's milk is also easier to digest than cow's milk." Sam recognises that there are some health concerns but insists they can be minimised with strict cleaning regimes and regular safety inspections "I think that there are risks with anything" he says, "however, our goats are always kept clean and healthy. We take a very strict milking policy and cleanliness is paramount. I think that the tests that we are subject to are adequate and all our test results have always been fine."

Ten years ago there were more than 500 producers selling raw milk in the UK. Now there are fewer than 100. Fortunately for those few survivors, raw milk does seem to be enjoying something of a revival. The reawakening public interest in food provenance and traditional farming methods has meant a generation of new foodies willing to think outside of the supermarket box. This, coupled with the ability of producers to reach a wider market via the internet (which still count as sales "direct from the farm" as far as the law is concerned) has led to a significant surge in raw milk sales.

It does seem odd that, when cigarettes and alcohol can be freely sold by shops to consenting adults, raw milk, which is subject to a strict regime of checks and tests, cannot. Clearly it's right to make people aware of the risks but as young(ish), healthy(ish) foodies with a taste for quality food, and admittedly getting a bit of a subversive kick out of drinking the illicit white stuff, we'll certainly be back for more.

Interview with Marina Vaughan, Blue Marine Foundation

Posted Thursday, 30 June 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  1 Comment(s)

2011 has been a good year for fish sustainability in the UK. Public consciousness has gone through the roof and it looks like the EU will soon (finally) be acting to do something about fish discards.

As you may have seen, one of Well Seasoned's seasonal competitions is to win a DVD of The End of the Line, the award-winning film that can claim a lot of the credit for kick-starting the groundswell. After production of The End of the Line finished, a number of the film makers were so moved by what they had discovered that they formed The Blue Marine Foundation, a UK charity aimed at increasing the global marine reserves from 1% to 10% of our oceans within the next 10 years.

Last week we were lucky enough to get an exclusive interview with (the appropriately named) Marina Vaughan, director of the charity. Click HERE to read what she had to say.

Gastro at Glasto

Posted Sunday, 26 June 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

So, this last weekend we were in Glastonbury. The unique meteorological conditions (biblical rain for two days followed by 48 hours of scorching sunshine) meant a rare opportunity to come home with both trench-foot and severe sunburn.

Yes, it was horrendously wet and muddy at times, but as we like to say (whilst, admittedly, sounding like our granddads) there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing and preparation. Some sturdy footwear and decent wet weather gear meant we could still enjoy what is truly a global showcase of musical talent. You can see and read plenty about the music in the national press so we wont bang on about it here. Suffice to say there's pretty much something for everyone and so, if you're into your music, of any kind, you'll be missing out if you don't make it to Glastonbury at least once in your life.

On to then food then and, having not been for two years, we were actually very pleasantly surprised. It really did feel like the seasonal, local message was getting through in places. For every greasy burger van (of which there are still plenty!) there was a stall purveying one or more regionally-sourced speciality such as Welsh venison burgers, Somerset pork sausages and even free range British ostrich steaks.

Perhaps the best part of it though, was that each of these products was competing keenly on price with said greasy burger. OstrichIt's really no longer the case of twice the price for an organic beef burger, but possibly £6.50 competing with £6.

As the size of the quality food market increases, simple economics dictates that the price differential between it and the cheaper stuff also gets squeezed. The end result is a much easier choice for festival-goers deliberating between an anonymous bacon butty and an outdoor-reared porker from a local farm for an extra few pence.

There's no Glastonbury next year but we'll be returning in 2013 and we'll let you know if the seasonal revolution has continued at the same pace. If it has, we're unlikely to go hungry.

 

The Pyramid Stage

Shop talk

Posted Thursday, 26 May 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

Last night the Twig was invited to the Sustainable Fish Supper at Selfridges in London. The evening, hosted by Selfridges head of food purchasing together with chefs Valentine Warner, Mitch Tonks and Mark Hix, was to raise awareness of sustainable fishing and Project Ocean, Selfridges new sustainability campaign.

The evening started with a discussion about sustainability with the chefs and Chris Gorell Barnes, executive producer of End of the Line, the award-winning film about the global fishing industry and the future of our seas. What was immediately apparent from the lively debate (which included contributions from the Twig himself) was that there aren't necessarily easy answers to the sustainability question. For example, while there was unanimous agreement that 'discards' (the practice of throwing back dead but undersized or out-of-quota fish) need to be stopped, there were very different views on how this could or should be achieved. But at least we had the conversation - we certainly won't come up with the answers if we're not talking about the problem. The debate was followed by an excellent meal of sustainable fish designed by Valentine, Mitch and Mark.

Selfridges deserve the good publicity they will get from Project Ocean and for being the first major retailer to commit to never selling an unsustainable fish again. We'll be holding them to that! In the meantime, here's the evening's delicious, sustainable menu the highlights of which were sub-Lyme (geddit?) red mullet and an equisite sea buckthorn posset.

Warm weather brings bumper crop of Strawberries: Do Your Duty!

Posted Tuesday, 17 May 2011  /  Written by Patrick  /  Post a Comment

On a recent shopping excursion, I overheard a conscientious lady complaining about the glut of strawberries on the shelves and how this was going to lead to an enormous amount of waste. With a quick look around and I could see that she was justified in her complaint as there were strawberries everywhere at hugely reduced prices!

Last week we tweeted a piece in the Guardian pointing our that, because of the mild Spring one producer's strawberry crop is up by 150% this year compared to usual years and a major UK supermarket retailer has reduced foreign strawberry imports by 50% as a result of the numbers of strawberries being picked in the UK at the moment. With 400 tonnes of strawberries headed to the supermarkets this season, prices have dropped and, best of all, the heat and sun has made British strawberries particularly sweet and delicious this year.

One of the other features of the warm weather has been an increase in variety of British strawberries succesfully making their way to the shelves; in the last 24 hours alone we have been eating delicious Florences from West Sussex and juicy Sweet Eves from Berkshire.

Of course, there are always question marks surrounding the supply chain of such good value products, but the fact is that there are heaps of very tasty and very cheap strawberries being sold around the country at the moment which, if not eaten, will criminally go to waste. We say: "Do Your Duty; eat as many strawberries as you can in this vintage British strawberry year!"

Your country needs you

Super-subs

Posted Sunday, 15 May 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

Yesterday saw both halves of Manchester celebrating after two thrilling spectacles of football. In both games we saw a number of substitutions when players got tired, with managers seeing the warning signs, pulling the players off the pitch and replacing them with fresh-legged alternatives.

As managers of the global ecosystem, scouring the world for new players in the Premiership of flavours, we need to remember to the apply same principles if we want the league to have a future. At great expense we fly-in highly-prized foreign recruits for our league; young players, unused to the high demands of the top flight, are thrust unexpectedly into the limelight; as players become popular we clamour to sign them up, throwing huge amounts of money at their agents to pull them in. With the country placing unrealistic expectations on them, our players get tired, their stocks exhausted. We could continue to play them, demanding that they keep going for the full 90 minutes, but if we do, there's a high chance they will burn out altogether. Surely better to give them a rest, allow them to recover and bring on a sub?

Subs are not, as any professional manager will tell you, an inferior grade of player. They are brought on at critical moments to breath new life into the game. They have to be every bit as tasty as those they replace. So, let's give the veteran Cod a season off to recover from the pressure of recent campaigns. Instead let's play the newcomer Coley (from the same pedigree and equally good). Haddock has performed well over the seasons but he definitely needs a rest. How about calling up Pollock? He's been around for a while but never caught the eye of the selectors. Poor old Tuna has definitely struggled recently. If we want to see him back to full strength he needs to go into intensive care. Let's replace him with Mackerel who is playing in a lower division at the moment but looks like tremendous value.

Responsible management of a team needs someone to keep an eye out for the players, making sure they are fit and healthy, and ensuring they have a future in the game. Substitution is a vital part of any team's strategy and as fans, managers and promoters, it's up to all of us to play our part. This game really is in the balance.

Rabbiting on

Posted Thursday, 12 May 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

As you know, the Well Seasoned team are big fans of game. During the winter a good supply of pheasant, partridge, duck and woodcock more than makes up for the limited amount of fruit and veg available. The only limitation with game is that, if you prefer not to eat from frozen stocks, it is generally only available during the game season. This means that from February onwards there isn't much available until September. One exception to that rule is rabbit, which is essentially available all year round (although at its very best towards the end of the Summer when the bunnies have had plenty of lush grass and recovered their condition from the breeding season).

It is often said that rabbit tastes 'like chicken'. That isn't really true - it definitely tastes more gamey than chicken - but it does have a similar consistency and is a great introduction to game for those who don't like the stronger tastes of some meats. You do need to look carefully at what you are buying; lots of rabbit sold, especially by larger retailers, is from rabbit farms and many of those are intensive operations no better than battery chicken units. Indeed Compassion in World Farming have recently extended thair anti-factory-farming campaign to include lobbying against such operations in the UK. So, your best bet is to buy genuinely wild meat from a reputable butcher or game dealer. Because there is virtually no county in the UK without a rabbit problem, they are bountiful, cheap and local. Your game dealer will also be happy to skin and joint the rabbit for you (and because rabbit is difficult to get off the bone the best recipes are usually those which allow you to casserole it, jointed). It goes brilliantly with most wild herbs especially rosemary and wild garlic.

Get into the rabbit habit and enjoy game all year round.

Honesty box

Posted Saturday, 7 May 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  1 Comment(s)

A trip to a well-known supermarket recently revealed that virtually every own-brand packaged fish (including tuna, cod and haddock) was labelled "Responsibly Sourced". Great. So we can eat it all with a clean conscience, right? Well, no. Because legally, the label "responsible" means virtually nothing. The Marine Conservation Society recently warned that supermarkets are failing ethical consumers by offering "poor and confusing" labelling for sustainable fish. On the basis that the Bluefin Tuna is officially listed by the World Conservation Union as a threatened species it's pretty hard to see how anything other than not sourcing it can be actually "responsible" unless it comes with a guarantee that the fishery is being managed in a sustainable way (i.e. the population of the fishery is at least stable and preferably increasing). The same goes for Atlantic Cod, halibut, haddock and a host of other species that are in severe decline. As consumers, whilst we should of course take an active interest, we can't be expected to have our finger on the pulse of every food source. So it's vital that we can rely on labelling to help guide our choices. Which? magazine recently stated "Which? research has also highlighted how confusing it can be to make sure you're buying sustainably sourced fish, and there's a lot of confusion about existing labelling schemes. It is important to move to a consistent, independently certified scheme." We couldn't agree more. Recent campaigns have shown that there is no shortage of public support - show us what we can eat sustainably and we'll eat it! But until the supermarkets embrace labelling as a mechanism to inform consumers and enable them to make a choice rather than a self-serving advertising opportunity, we'll all continue to be unwitting accomplices to the decline of several valuable fish species.

Check out MCS's Good Fish Guide http://www.goodfishguide.co.uk/

Wanted: 10,000 farmers - no experience necessary

Posted Friday, 6 May 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

At the beginning of this month, My-Farm.org.uk launched. MyFarm is a new National Trust initiative based around the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire. After paying a subscription fee of £30, 10,000 people will get to vote each month on the running of the 2,500 acre farm for the next year. They will be given a say in matters like which crops to plant, which animals to breed and how environmental issues on the estate should be handled. With £300,000 in their pocket the National Trust can't go too badly wrong financially and the farm will still be overseen by an experienced manager so it's not as if they've completely handed over the reins to the uneducated public but at Well Seasoned we love this project because its underlying aim is to re-educate people about where our food comes from. Spread the word, get the kids involved and get back to your (beet)roots.    

MyFarm

Carping on

Posted Tuesday, 3 May 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  2 Comment(s)

As we strolled through Hampshire in glorious sunshine last week and watched the odd trout rising on the beautifully clear water of the river Itchen I was envious of those who get to fish in this wonderful, tranquil part of the world. The Hampshire chalk streams have some of the finest trout fishing in the country, indeed some would say the world, and it was apparently on the river Itchen that fly fishing was first born. As a country, we got a real taste for trout in the 1950's and since then, most of the UK's supply is produced in purpose-built farms (there are now 350-odd farms in the UK producing some 16,000 tonnes of trout each year). Trout farms are of varying quality and consequently they produce fish of varying quality. But it's fair to say that the best farms (by which I mean organic farms with low stocking density and using natural feed) now produce fish which are virtually indistinguishable from wild ones.

It did get me thinking though - can you name another freshwater fish that we eat regularly in this country? Apart from salmon (which is lives its life partly in salt water and partly in fresh) I struggled. Why is it that we eat sea-fish but not freshwater ones other than trout? Is it because we've tried them all and none compare favourably to the trout? Well, that could be the case but I doubt it. No; far more likely is that, as a nation, encouraged by large retailers, we follow food trends. Art, architecture, clothes - things come in and out of fashion and not always for good reason.

Carp are, these days, seen by most as a sport fish. Every day of the season anglers take to stocked ponds with huge amounts of the latest kit, eager to bag the biggest specimen they can. But few people appreciate that carp were introduced to the UK originally as an eating fish. In mediaeval times they were the staple protein of monks and every priory had its own carp pond, certainly not for recreational or ornamental purposes but to sustain the holy habitants. Around the same time all of our river fish were seen as fit for the table; tench, chub, dace and eels were perfectly good eating as far as your medieval peasant was concerned. Now, I'm not suggesting we go out today and raid the local ponds for our supper (indeed there has been some concern recently that migrants from countries who value their freshwater fish have been taking rather too many for the pot) but I am saying that we should all open our minds to potential alternatives and recognise that as a nation we are victims of food fashion. Carp does seem to be enjoying something of a mini-revival and we've found a couple of places where you can now buy it online. If you have any great carp recipes or you've bought some recently (whether you loved it or hated it!) we'd love to hear from you.

Liquid Gold

Posted Monday, 2 May 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  3 Comment(s)

When you last bought cooking oil, what did you buy? I'd wager some kind of olive oil. Use of olive oil has exploded in recent years and it is now the dominant home-cooking oil. But why do we automatically reach for olive oil when we have some really good home-grown varieties? Quality rapeseed oils are becoming increasingly available these days and at Well Seasoned we're big fans. Not just because of the lower food miles associated with UK-produced oils but because they taste great. As you might guess from the bright yellow flowers that cover our countryside in late Spring, rapeseed produced a vivid yellow oil with a buttery, sweet flavour. Look for cold pressed varieties and use them for frying,baking or for salad dressings. Great taste and low in saturated fats; it's liquid gold.

Rapeseed field

Growing to love it

Posted Tuesday, 12 April 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

Last week we tweeted this article from the Telegraph suggesting that a third of adults in Britain claim they will grow most of their fruit and vegetables this year. Now, there are a number of reasons why the article should be taken with a small pinch of salt, not least because the survey was undertaken by a well-know garden equipment retailer! However, we can't ignore the fact that more and more people are turning to growing their own food. It feels like we are in a "perfect storm" of green fingered fever at the moment with high food prices, economic uncertainty, some high profile campaigning and a snowballing interest in food and food ethics. The fantastic weather we've been having recently won't do any harm either!

In some areas we've seen ethical stances take a back seat when cost gets in the way (see the recent article about a 6% drop in organic sales as an example). But when you can grow your own, cost doesn't really come into it. Seeds are (literally) ten a penny and you can get up and running with a few pots and compost for just a few pounds.

Our first ever blog post (on the old WS site) was about growing your own and it's great to think back to that and see how much we've learned over two years. We've been practising our skills in and around the Barn and have been lucky enough to get our hands on an allotment near our London HQ (no mean feat - we've heard tales of allotment waiting lists in the smarter parts of London currently topping 15 years!

The points we made in that original post are still true; not everyone has a big garden or an allotment. If you live in a small flat you're unlikely to have space for rows of potatoes and carrots but you will have room for something – maybe on the window sill or out on a balcony. A few herbs or other plants that go a long way (for example chillies or garlic) really won’t take up much space and yet the sense of achievement you will get from nurturing them from seeds to full grown plants is completely disproportionate to the effort required. In these tough times it's cheap, rewarding entertainment that we can't recommend enough. You can do as little or as much as you like from a single pot to a whole allotment or even an orchard - choose whatever suits your lifestyle.

Whether it's a third of people growing their own or, as we suspect, rather less, the fact is that more and more are rolling up there sleeves and giving it a go. And hooray for that we say.

It’s definitely not too late to do some planting this year – May is a good time for broccoli cabbages, lettuce, radishes and corn. Make a start now and before you know it you too will be feeling the smug self-satisfaction of the home-grower.

If you'd like to grow your own but don't know where to start, have a go at winning our bumper pack of colourful and unusual vegetable seeds here.

The Twig says no to "Supermarket Organic"

Posted Friday, 8 April 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  4 Comment(s)

At Well Seasoned we are, as you know, big on seasonal food, good animal welfare and generally growing things in a sensible, natural way. We were asked recently “why don’t you go the whole way and insist on organic?” It's an interesting question and one I thought I should devote some time to answering. I say it’s an interesting question but it’s also, in my mind, a fundamentally flawed one. It starts with the premise that organic is always best. For a number of reasons I don’t believe that is necessarily the case and I’m going to try to explain why. 

Organic farming is defined as “the form of agriculture that relies on crop rotation, green manure, compost, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation etc… to maintain soil productivity and control pests, excluding or strictly limiting the use of synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, plant growth regulators, livestock feed additives, and genetically modified organisms.” (thank you Wikipedia.) 

Now, that all sounds great. Doing things the natural way, cutting out all of the nasty stuff and reducing the harmful chemicals that can taint our food. But in recent years big retailers have seized upon our thirst for organic produce and twisted it to something that suits their brand of global economics. We’ve ended up with a product which technically meets the organic definition but have seemingly forgotten the principles that underlayed the organic movement when it first started.

Incidentally, that's definitely not to say that there are not very high quality organic products out there (see Riverford and Abel & Cole for details of how to get organic right as a big business) but it does mean (because the majority of organic produce sold in the UK are retailed through supermarkets) that any element of locality or seasonality is is missing in the majority of cases.

I'd suggest people’s reasons for buying organic fit broadly into the following categories:

i) organic food is intrinsically more nutritious
ii) artificial chemicals could have toxic effects
iii) it’s kinder to the environment
iv) it tastes better

So, let’s say we pop into our local supermarket and buy some organic lamb and asparagus. Which of these is necessarily true?

Well, a 2010 study by the Food Standards Agency concluded that organic food is no better for you than non-organic. Now, I’m not for a minute going to say that was a good bit of work by the FSA – it’s a terrible piece of reporting and misses many of the fundamentals, focussing entirely on the nutritional benefit of food and ignoring all of the other factors listed above. But, rubbish reporting aside, it nevertheless reaches valid conclusions on the narrow point; if it’s nutrition you’re after, organic isn’t necessarily better for you.

On to chemicals then. This one I do at least accept is a potential advantage of organic over non-organic. We don’t really know the long term impact of some chemicals on our bodies. But how big is the risk? Is it really one to be concerned about? I just question whether organic converts have the balance right here – we have a long history of using artificial fertilizers which are (in this country) stringently tested and proven safe. For decades now, they have been used with very few negative impacts on human health. I happily put artificial chemicals into my body when I take a couple of ibuprofen for a headache, I live in London where I breath car fumes on a daily basis, I drink alcohol and partake in some potentially dangerous activities like scuba diving (though try to avoid these two at the same time). Is non-organic food really the risk I should be focussing on? (By the way I certainly don’t include here GM foods. That’s a debate in itself which might feature here at a later date, but suffice to say that’s not something I think we should be doing.) But we take so many risks on a daily basis and have so many safeguards in place in this country when it comes to food, that I’m really not sure this is one we need to be concerned about. 

The environmental issue is probably the main one that gets my goat here. And by environment I’m including the social environment as well as the natural one. An organic label as such says nothing about where your food was reared. It gives no assurance about what conditions the local workers work in or what the farmer was paid for his produce. For UK products we generally don't need to worry. But our supermarket organic lamb could quite easily have been flown in from South America and our asparagus from Thailand. The organic label gives no assurance as to how, or how far, our food has travelled, so what are the chances that all the environmental good done by the organic farmer in Brazil has been undone by the fuel-guzzling aeroplane that flew it to the UK supermarket? Pretty high I’d say. In addition, organic systems will usually produce lower yields than “conventional” systems that use artificial fertilizers. If everyone were to eat organic, the logical conclusion is that it might increase the total area of farmland needed to feed the world. This in turn might encourage the clearing of rainforests and produce more CO2 than conventional farming. So, our organic food might be a little better for us personally but is the net effect of getting it to our plate a positive one? 

I accept that there is a potential environmental impact of artificial fertilizers but it’s wrong to think that organic farming does not also have the potential to harm too if it’s carried out in an irresponsible way. Organic farmers use alternative methods such as petrol-burning flame throwers for weed control. So just because they aren’t using synthetic chemicals, doesn’t mean they can’t have negative impacts. What’s more, it’s generally the excessive use of fertilizers, rather than the chemicals themselves, which have been responsible for the majority of environmental damage reported. As with so many things which are potentially harmful (alcohol, guns, cars) doesn’t the user bear primary responsibility for ensuring they are used safely? Should we really exclude their use entirely because of an irresponsible minority? I’d argue not. 

Besides which, there is actually quite a long list of chemicals which can be used in organic farming. They are deemed ok to use because they are derived from natural products. Is that entirely logical? In the EU, farmers are permitted to use up to seven pesticides and more than 30 additives. In the US, those include nicotine sulphate (a pesticide derived from tobacco plants), pyrethrum (a pesticide from chrysanthemums) and blood meal (fertilizer from cattle slaughterhouse by-products). Personally I have no problem with any of these things being applied to my food – I just believe the distinction between artificial and natural chemicals is an arbitrary one which doesn’t always stand up to scrutiny. 

That leaves us with the taste. Now, it’s absolutely right that organic food can taste better. Without artificial production, it generally grows more slowly and the flavours are, as a result, more concentrated. So, if we grow two identical plants, in otherwise identical growing conditions, I believe the one grown organically will taste better. But the problem is, with "supermarket organic" we are not getting identical plants. Our organic food produced abroad needs to travel well. We’ve mentioned this previously (and sorry to bang on about it) but nearly all strawberries sold in the UK are Elsanta simply because they can be transported easily with minimum bruising and staying firm for a long time (insert your own gag here). You can grow those strawberries as organically as you like; plant them in five tonnes of the finest organic cow manure and have them tended by Percy Thrower himself – they’ll never taste that good. Add to this the time taken for imported goods to reach your plate (with the tasty sugars turning to tasteless starch as the clock ticks) and you have a recipe for an extremely bland tasting product. With the emphasis away from taste and towards transportability “organic” has evolved to suit the global market and is no longer a guarantee of good flavour.

So, you see, I love the principles behind organic food. I completely buy the idea of natural growing processes and cutting down on pesticides. And I’m utterly convinced that naturally grown food can taste better. But if it comes to the choice between a poor quality supermarket products flown half way round the world with the “organic” boxes technically ticked, or a UK producer who grows his products in season and who can get his food onto my plate within a few hours of being picked, but who uses a small amount of artificial fertilizer, in my mind it’s a straightforward choice – the local, seasonal producer wins every time.

What are your thoughts? We’d really like to know, particularly if you’re a supermarket organic fan and you disagree!

EDIT: One other point, not included in our original piece, relates to packaging. You might have noticed that nearly all organic produce in the supermarkets comes packaged. According to the Soil Association, there are two reasons for this. First, because it ensures that organic and non-organic is "not mixed up". Secondly, and more likely to be the driving factor, is the fact that to sell loose organic produce the store needs to have its own licence. If supermarkets were to sell loose produce, every branch would need an organic licence. So, to save their biggest clients some paperwork, the producers pre-pack the produce. It's wasteful and unnecessary.

There, rant over (definitely this time).

Cheesy diversity

Posted Tuesday, 5 April 2011  /  Written by The Twig  /  Post a Comment

We and other campaigns have focussed a lot on fish recently. The sterling efforts of the Fish Fight campaign produced action from the European parliament with almost unprecedented speed. Although we have yet to see the final result, it really goes to show the impact that public campaigning can have in the age of the internet and social networking.

One good tip given by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (mastermind of the FF campaign) in his original River Cottage cookbook is never to eat the same fish twice in a row. Certainly good advice and if everyone in the country did this the pressure on at-risk species such as cod and haddock would be instantly reduced. But why stop at fish?

By definition seasonal food is diverse food and diversity is the key to so much. Environmentally, it reduces pressure on the land. We've known for centuries that crop rotation is a good thing, allowing the land to recover its nutrients on an occasional basis, so the principle is age-old. Economically, diversity means your money goes to different producers each week. If you shop at a farmers market you can actually hand over your hard-earned cash to a different person, knowing you are spreading the benefit. And (perhaps most importantly from a foodie's perspective) from a personal point of view, diversity in our eating habits means we get to taste more of those delicious flavours that this country's producers strive so hard to make.

One problem is, for those who shop at supermarkets (and most of us do for at least some of our food), we are provided with the same produce year-round and so we settle into purchasing patterns which repeat themselves - it's much easier to stick to the same buying and eating habits regardless of the seasons than it used to be. The science of supermarket shelf stacking is a fascinating topic in itself but suffice to say we are actively (if subconcioulsy) encouraged to repeat our shopping routine on every visit. Even when shopping on the internet we are coerced with "helpful" reminders of what we bought last week and things we "might have forgotten". We're not saying these are necessarily bad from a customer service point of view, but they certainly encourage us to stick to the same old routine.

Take cheese an example. As we've tweeted recently, there are over 700 British and Irish cheeses including great names like Swinzie, Blue Vinney, Exmoor Blue, Merlin, Gubbeen and Perl Las. Why then do we import 138,000 tonnes of Cheddar?? Forgetting for a moment that it's not "real" Cheddar (i.e. it wasn't made anywhere near the famous gorge) and that large amounts of it are mass-produced and flavourless, it's completely crazy.

So, we all miss out by not branching out. Instead of automatically reaching for the favourites next time you're shopping, why not take a look at what else is on offer? Even if you're just in the supermarket, glance away from the middle shelf (where they deliberately place the cheddar!) and you'll see some excellent, less-known British cheeses well worth trying.

Until next time, keep it seasonal and diverse...and cheesy.

"National Taste of Game Fortnight" a Huge Success

Posted Wednesday, 8 December 2010  /  Written by A, P & T  /  Post a Comment

Our friends at the National Taste of Game Fortnight ran a very successful campaign in November to raise awareness of the versatility and benefits of game. We're big fans of game at Well Seasoned and firmly of the opinion that the country should be eating more of it as low fat and free range food. If you've never eaten venison or always wondered what pheasant tastes like, then give it a go this season (the game season generally runs throughout the autumn and into winter, but check our meat and game seasonality chart for more detailed info). We've got two absolutely cracking ways to use venison and pheasant in our winter recipe section so get your game on and get cooking!

Here's a summary of the event, which this year was supported by some of the countries' best Indian restaurants.

"National Taste of Game Fortnight ran from 6th – 20th November and was part of BASC’s ongoing Game’s On game promotion campaign. Game meat has seen an explosion in popularity in recent years.

A taste of the countryside was brought to the capital during a three day game tasting event, when a deer carcass was prepared and cooked by restaurateur and broadcaster Mike Robinson at the world-renowned Borough Market. Game with a Tandoori twist was served up during the event by chefs from restaurants including the Cinnamon Club, Cinnamon Kitchen, Moti Mahal and Vatika in London and Massala in Cobham.

The National Taste of Game event was extended this year from a week-long event to a fortnight-long event because it has proved to be so popular and events were held across the UK.

The campaign was given a touch of spice with the launch of National Taste of Game Fortnight, India. BASC has been encouraging Indian restaurants to put game meat on the menu as part of the campaign, which ran alongside National Taste of Game Fortnight.

This year, BASC joined up with Harrods and independent supermarket chain Booths to promote game meat. Ten thousand Harrods-branded BASC recipe leaflets were printed to be given out at the iconic London store’s famous food hall and 25,000 recipe leaflets were available to customers at Booths stores during National Taste of Game Fortnight.

Northern Ireland Environment Minister Edwin Poots and Jim Shannon MP presented braces of pheasant to two of the Province’s top chefs.

A game and ale tasting evening was held at Burton-on-Trent’s National Brewery Centre.

A Game’s On beer was on sale at the Yew Tree Inn in Bunbury, Cheshire, during the fortnight and more than 60 local game dealers and food and drink artisan producers showcased their wares at the Yew Tree Inn Cheshire Food & Drink Festival. A number of Cheshire-based chefs put on game cookery demonstrations and gave advice on game preparation.

More than 40 people tried a taste of game with the Devon Wildfowling and Conservation Association when they hosted a game evening at the Globe Hotel, Fore Street, Topsham, Devon.

Simon Hamlyn, BASC’s director of operations, said: "The response to this year’s National Taste of Game event has been absolutely phenomenal. We have encouraged many more people to enjoy eating game which is fantastic. Game meat is fabulous. It is delicious, wild and extremely versatile and it can be locally sourced. We will continue to build on our efforts to get even more people eating game."

BASC has been promoting game as a healthy, sustainable and highly nutritious food since the mid 1960s. The Game’s On campaign began in 2005. More information and numerous tasty game recipes can be found at www.gameson.org.uk"  

Keep it seasonal!